As we age, our bodies are unable to retain as much water, which is why it is so important for seniors to stay hydrated to avoid the risk of dehydration, which can cause serious harm. The risk of dehydration among seniors is increased because the thirst response dulls with aging, so an older adult may not recognize when he or she feels thirsty. Because of this aging reflex, it’s not surprising that almost half of all older adults visiting hospitals for treatment in emergency rooms have shown signs of dehydration in lab tests.
While dehydration can be caused in part due to not consuming enough liquids, it can also happen due to medical issues, such as a diuretic side effects of medication, diabetes or diarrhea. As a result of even minimal dehydration, the body may be put under unnecessary strain.
Our kidneys rely on water intake to flush out toxins from the blood, and they are not able to work as efficiently without proper hydration. One way to tell if your loved one is adequately hydrated is by urine color. The darker the color, the less the body is hydrated and the harder the body is working to remove waste from blood. Additionally, our kidneys’ ability to filter the blood also declines with age, making it even more important that we stay hydrated throughout the day.
The effects of dehydration can be major, even life-threatening. Here are the warning signs of dehydration that you should look out for in a loved one, especially during summer’s hottest months.
Signs of slight dehydration:
- “Cotton” mouth, dry tongue with thick saliva
- Dark colored urine, or passing only a small amount during a trip to the bathroom
- Cramping in arms and legs
- Minimal or no tears when crying
Signs of serious dehydration:
- Low blood pressure; pulse may be fast but weak
- Shaking and seizures
- Acute limb, back and stomach muscle contractions and cramping
- Distended, bloated stomach
- Sunken eyes that are dry with few or no tears
- Wrinkly and wizened skin that has no flexibility
- Rapid breathing, faster than normal
While many older adults are concerned about water intake due to issues with incontinence, remind them that the benefits outweigh any potential drawbacks. Some of the healthy benefits include a reduction in the reliance on laxatives used for constipation, lower risk of bladder cancer in men, reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease, and fewer falls caused by dizziness.
Tips on how to get the water your body needs:
- If the person has a history of dehydration, build the daily amount over a period of a week, not all in one day.
- Sip on water before the thirst reflex is triggered.
- Drink water throughout the day. Have it on hand even when consuming another beverage such as milk or coffee.
- Supply small “1/2 bottle” bottles of water so your loved one is not overwhelmed.
- Avoid alcohol except on rare occasions, and decrease caffeinated beverages due to their diuretic effect.
- Keep low-sugar sports drinks with electrolytes on hand in case slight dehydration is recognized.
- Frequently offer water to loved ones, especially those who may be physically limited.
By consistently offering and giving water over the course of the day at all meals, between meals and at all times medications are taken, older adults can incorporate enough daily fluids to ensure they don’t suffer the short or long-term effects and health hazards of dehydration.