Ad libitum dehydration is associated with poorer performance on a sustained attention task but not other measures of cognitive performance among middle-to-older aged community-dwelling adults: A short-term longitudinal study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Hydration status and water intake are critical to physiological health. Despite a popular narrative that dehydration impairs cognitive performance, results are mixed in the literature. Therefore, we tested how hydration status was associated with cognitive performance in an ad libitum state over the course of 3 months. Methods: Data come from a short-term longitudinal study among middle-to-older aged US adults (n = 78) measured three times (207 observations). All participants were scheduled for 8:00 a.m. visits for the baseline, two-week, and 3-month examinations where they completed surveys, neuropsychological tests to measure cognitive performance, anthropometrics, and a blood draw for biomarker analysis. Serum osmolality (Sosm) was measured as a biomarker of hydration status using osmometry. Four cognitive performance tasks were assessed, including inhibition, working memory, cognitive flexibility, and sustained attention. Results: Panel random effects linear regressions demonstrate that there was an inverse association between dehydration and sustained attention, whereas there were no significant relationships between dehydration and inhibition, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Adults who were dehydrated (defined as Sosm >300 mOsm/kg) performed substantially worse (B = 0.65 z-score; SE = 0.28; p =.020) on the sustained attention task than those who were not dehydrated adjusting for time fixed effects, age, body mass index, sex, and educational attainment. Conclusion: This short-term longitudinal study found that dehydration was only associated with poorer performance on a cognitive performance task that required sustained attention. Maintaining adequate hydration may be increasingly important for middle-to-older aged adults to ensure proper cognitive function, particularly as water needs increase in future climatic scenarios.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere24051
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics

Cite this