It's the time of the year when a lot of people end up in the Emergency Department due to severe dehydration. Mostly it's babies and older adults, people on the opposite ends of the age spectrum. Research shows that older people are more susceptible to dehydration than younger people. Chronic health conditions and multiple medications often disturb the normal age-related physiological changes in the water and sodium balance and therefore increase elderly people's risk of dehydration, especially when dealing with infections or warm weather
Symptoms of dehydration in older adults may sometimes be subtle, but not drinking enough water and fluids can cause serious problems in the body, especially in the elderly. Severe dehydration can lead to confusion, weakness, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and other serious conditions. Drinking enough fluids helps the body digest food, eliminate waste, regulate temperature through sweating, and maintain blood pressure.
Why are older adults at an increased risk of dehydration?
Dehydration occurs when a person loses more water than they take in. There are a number of reasons why older adults are prone to dehydration.
- Chronic health conditions like diabetes, kidney disease and dementia may increase the risk of dehydration
- Acute conditions like vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration in older adults
- Some medications increase urination as a side effect. Other medications may cause increased sweating
- Some people with advanced dementia forget to drink water
- Older adults have a reduced sense of thirst. This means they don’t feel as thirsty as younger people do, and they may not realize they need to drink water
- People who are frail with limited mobility may be less likely to get water for themselves and may depend on caregivers for their hydration needs
How would I know if I'm dehydrated?
A dehydrated person may experience dizziness, fatigue, dry skin, muscle cramps, dry mouth, cracked lips, sunken eyes, reduction in the amount and/or frequency of urination, constipation and darker urine. Severe dehydration may cause palpitations and confusion in addition to the above mentioned changes.
How do I prevent dehydration?
It can be a challenge for older adults to stay hydrated when they don’t feel thirsty, especially if they have additional health issues or memory loss. Here are some tips to help you stay hydrated.
- Drink up! drink water even if you’re not thirsty.
- If you have mobility issues, keep water bottles at various spots around your living space. If you use a wheelchair, keep a water bottle in the holder at all times.
- Bring water with you if you go for a walk or are gardening or exercising outside, especially if the weather is hot and humid.
- Set reminders. Drink on the hour, use timers, alarms or reminders on your phone to remind you to drink water.
- To keep track of how much water you're drinking through the day, fill two large 1Lt bottles every morning and make sure you drink through the day at regular intervals to finish them by the end of the day.
- If you don't like plain water, try flavoured or sparkling water, fresh juices or milk. Salty food, soft drinks, coffee and tea increase urination, so consume these sparingly.
- Eat foods with high water content, like fruits, fresh fruit juice popsicles, Jell-O, vegetables, and soup. Watermelon, cucumbers, low-sodium broths and clear soups are some great options.
- Keep an eye on the colour of your urine and make sure it’s light in colour.
- When taking a sip of water to swallow a pill, try drinking an entire glass instead.
Drinking enough water everyday might be the best thing you could do to promote and maintain your health. If you find it challenging to stay hydrated, or need our guidance to make healthy living choices, at in4MED, we can make this happen by providing you with information about your condition, connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.
Healthcare Consultant, in4MED
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.