Reduced thirst after water deprivation in healthy elderly men

N Engl J Med. 1984 Sep 20;311(12):753-9. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198409203111202.


To determine whether responses to dehydration are altered with age, we investigated the thirst, fluid and electrolyte responses, and hormonal responses to 24 hours of water deprivation in seven healthy active elderly men (67 to 75 years old) and seven healthy young men (20 to 31 years old) who were matched for weight loss during water deprivation. After water deprivation, the older men had greater increases in plasma osmolality, sodium concentration, and vasopressin levels. However, their urinary osmolality was lower and they were less thirsty and drank less after water deprivation, so that their plasma and urine were not diluted to predeprivation levels. Regression analysis indicated increased sensitivity of vasopressin osmoreceptors in the older group, although this difference was not statistically significant. We conclude that after 24 hours of water deprivation, there is a deficit in thirst and water intake in healthy elderly men, as compared with younger men, although vasopressin osmoreceptor responsiveness is maintained or even increased. Our findings also suggest that the well-known deficit in urinary concentrating ability that occurs with age reflects renal causes and not a lack of circulating vasopressin.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Plasma
  • Sodium / blood
  • Thirst / physiology*
  • Urine
  • Vasopressins / metabolism
  • Water Deprivation / physiology*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance


  • Vasopressins
  • Sodium