As we age, not only does the water content of our bodies diminish, we also lose our sense of thirst. This puts seniors at a high risk of dehydration because they may not be able to easily sense when their bodies need fluids. While staying hydrated may seem like a simple concept, for seniors, it’s not always as simple as drinking when they feel thirsty. For example, seniors may be taking diuretic medications or ones that cause them to perspire more than normal. They may have limited physical abilities that prevent them from getting up and getting a drink, and they may not feel comfortable asking for help. If they experience incontinence, they often limit drinking sufficiently. For seniors living with dementia or another form of memory loss, consuming adequate water may be overlooked completely.
Though dehydration in seniors may not sound like a critical health problem, the effects can be severe. Dehydrated bodies cannot metabolize medications properly. Dehydration can exacerbate existing medical conditions; potentially causing kidney stones, urinary tract infections, weight loss and an impaired immune system. Dehydration can lead to more frequent colds and put seniors at greater risk of contracting the flu or pneumonia. Dehydration can even prove deadly for seniors living at high altitudes.
Signs of dehydration
Dehydration in seniors may manifest in many ways, and the signs can closely mimic symptoms of other medical conditions — they may even be attributed to normal signs of aging. Common signs of dehydration in seniors include: dizziness, headaches, drop in blood pressure and heart rate, dry mouth, fatigue, muscle ache, low urine output, confusion, and constipation. A lack of elasticity in the skin is another telling sign. If the skin on a senior’s hand doesn’t quickly bounce back when pulled, they’re most likely dehydrated.
Since the symptoms of dehydration in seniors can vary — and are not always easy to detect — it’s important that seniors and their caregivers monitor fluid intakes. Rather than forcing themselves to drink when they’re not thirsty, seniors should strive to eat a variety of water-rich foods each day. These include fruits, vegetables, soups and smoothies. They may also find that keeping a water bottle handy and drinking small sips throughout the day helps them stay hydrated. In addition, seniors should limit dehydrating beverages like coffee, tea and alcohol. They should also closely monitor their fluid intakes when fighting off an illness.
Tracking fluid intake
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to staying hydrated. The amount of water someone needs in a day is determined by their weight and health, as well as their diet, physical activity levels and frequency of bathroom use. Since these factors can change daily, it can be difficult for seniors to monitor their fluid intakes. A way to monitor your fluid intake can be to watch for a sudden drop in weight — a pound or two differences from the previous day may be a sign of dehydration. Similarly, waking up with a headache or feel unusually tired or irritable may be a sign of dehydration.
Staying hydrated is important and it doesn’t need to be complicated. Seniors should strive to maintain a well-rounded diet, helped by their caregivers and loved ones by ensuring there is easy access to water throughout the day. With a bit of knowledge and foresight, seniors can easily stay hydrated and healthy.