Dehydration In Elderly (Symptoms and how to prevent it)

Throughout our lives we have been told to drink water, drink more water and drink water often. Everything on earth benefits from water as it is truly a life source. We are educated from a young age that our bodies are made up of 60 percent water, and it is ingrained in our minds that it is important. Unfortunately, something that is not discussed as frequently, is how important it is for the elderly to stay hydrated and the risks associated with inadequate water intake.

How Much Water to Consume

There is a lot of different information out there regarding the recommended amount of water you should be drinking every day. Some sources will claim that 8 cups a day will do the trick, while others will provide you with a math problem to figure out your recommended daily amount.

For example: take your weight, divide it in half, then convert it to ounces and that is how much water you should be drinking every day.

So, how much water should we be drinking every day? Specifically, how much water should the elderly be drinking? All the conflicting information can be very confusing to people of all ages. Even the prestigious Mayo Clinic has admitted that necessary water consumption is very situational and there is not a one fit all answer that will apply to all ageing people. Consulting with a physician that is familiar with a person’s medical history is the best way to know how much water to consume. While many factors can contribute to necessary water consumption, there are three main factors that could contribute to how much water an elderly person might need to drink:

  1. The first is exercise. It only makes sense that the more exercise and activities a person does, or amount of effort they exert, the more easily they will become dehydrated. For those higher in age, that could simply mean a walk around the block. It is suggested that water be consumed before, during and after exercise. Sports drinks can be substituted after a workout to replenish electrolytes, but it is important to note that these types of drinks typically are very high in sugar, and the person consuming them should be in appropriate health (typically, not diabetic).
  2. The second factor to consider is the environment. If you live in a hot or humid climate, your body naturally loses more water than if you lived in a cooler and dryer location. You may need to consume a little extra water to make up for what was lost if you are in one of the warmer environments.
  3. Lastly, overall health should be taken into account when determining how much water to consume. If you have been vomiting, for example, you are going to logically be more dehydrated than when you are in good health. Also, bladder infections and urinary tract infections, both of which are not uncommon in the elderly, will require an increase in water consumption.

Risks Caused by Dehydration

Did you know that as we age our feeling for thirstiness gradually lessens? Medical professionals do not know the exact reason for this, but it should give you a bit of pause. This means that even though our bodies need water, it becomes harder and harder to recognize the signs and therefore, we gradually start to drink less. The problem is that our body relies on water consumption for nearly every function it performs and without it, our bodies start to shut down.

Dehydration in the elderly is a frequent cause for medical alerts and hospital visit and is often times a symptom that is overlooked. According to a recent article from the Cleveland Clinic that interviewed Geriatric Professional Ann Vanderbilt, “Many of the earliest signs, like dry mouth, fatigue, dizziness and muscle cramps, are nonspecific and could be easily attributed to other medical conditions, medications or natural effects of aging.” This makes pinpointing dehydration very tricky.

If not recognized and taken care of, dehydration could have a seriously negative impact on someone’s life and can even be life threatening. Some dangerous symptoms to be aware of are unconsciousness, low blood pressure, weak pulse, and heavy breathing. Some more mild symptoms of dehydration are things like headaches, sleepiness, irritability, and weakness.

While inadequate water intake is the most obvious reason for dehydration, but it can happen due to a handful of other reasons. These can include: diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, blood loss and other specific types of diseases. To make things even a little more complicated, some medications require more water to be consumed to combat side effects.

Benefits to Drinking Water

We now know the risks of dehydration, so let’s talk about all the great things water can do for the elderly. You will see that number one on many lists is that it lubricates the joints. Our cartilage is made up of 80 percent, you guessed it, water! As we get older, we start having more aches and pains and luckily, joint pain can be lessened by staying hydrated.

It helps us breathe better. When our bodies do not have enough water, our airways start to restrict for preservation. This is especially challenging for people who already have asthma, allergies or sleep apnea.
Water makes up 90 percent of our blood and we know that our blood carries oxygen to different parts of our body, including the brain. It also acts as a cushion for the brain and spinal cord. The more hydrated we are, the healthier our brains.

The elderly tend to suffer more from heat strokes than younger people, and staying hydrated can boost the tolerance of heat strain. When the body is lacking in water, it naturally stores more heat and water works to regulate the body’s temperature.

It is also worth noting that while it is less common, it is very possible to consume too much water, especially for those who have thyroid disease or complications with the kidneys, liver or heart. Too much water could also be problematic for those who are taking medications that cause water retention, like a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. The best way to ensure anyone is getting the proper amount of hydration is to consult with a doctor.

A glass of water

Getting Hydrated

It is the responsibility of caregivers to the elderly to know the signs of dehydration as well as how to prevent the situation from arising. The best and safest way to combat elderly dehydration is, obviously, to ensure enough water is being consumed, because their bodies might not be alerting them otherwise. Getting the recommended water consumption in every day can be a challenge; but, there are a few alternatives to getting some hydration other than monotonously filling up a glass over and over.
Many fruits and vegetables can provide a good source of hydration. Some of those foods are cucumber, iceberg lettuce, watermelon and berries to name a few. A simple Google search will yield a lot of lists of foods with high water content if you want additional ideas. Another way to switch up water intake is to experiment with different types of beverages and with different temperatures. If you or a loved one is getting tired of lukewarm water and finding it hard to consume, make a change! For example, you could start to make it a tradition to have tea time, or have an afternoon smoothie. Please be cautious about drinking beverages that also act as a diuretic, like coffee. Also, many broths of soup will work to hydrate the body and could be substituted during a meal if you low on water consumption. As always, please consult with a doctor before changing your diet or liquid consumption or that of an elderly loved one.

There are many little tricks you can use to trick yourself or a loved one into drinking more water. Taking sips in between bites during a meal is a great one. Drinking a cup of water right after waking up and right before bed knocks off two whole glasses that you do not have to worry about during the day. It is also a good idea for an elderly person to always have water next to them. Really, everyone of all ages could benefit from having water within arm’s reach at all times.

As we get older our bodies lose water. Remember earlier in this article when we mentioned that 60 percent of our bodies are made up of water? That is only until around age 40, when it starts to drop. After age 60, the water percentage in men is around 52 percent and 46 in women. This is partly because our bodies also lose muscle mass over time. That is just one more reason of many as to why ensuring the elderly are properly hydrated is so important. It is vital to keeping our bodies functioning the way they were designed. We owe it to ourselves to give our bodies what it needs, when it is so simple and urging our elderly loved ones to do the same.