Preventing Dehydration in Older Adults

Our bodies are in a constant state of change, and as we age, minor changes in our bodies’ needs can have a major impact on our lives and overall health.  One of the most important, but often-overlooked age-related changes involves an increased risk of dehydration.

Read on to learn how our body’s ability to detect dehydration changes with age, how to identify early warning signs of chronic dehydration, and small steps you can take today to manage this common health hazard.  Glass of water

How Water Works in Our Bodies

Our body needs water to function.  Because we constantly lose water through breathing, perspiration, urine, and bowel movements, we need to replenish our body’s water supply regularly.

 Water provides our body’s ability to:

  • Regulate your body temperature
  • Moisten your eyes, nose, and mouth tissues
  • Protect your organs and tissues
  • Brings nutrients and oxygen to your cells
  • Lubricate joints
  • Flushes out waste products
  • Dissolves minerals and other nutrients for your body to use.
  • Helps to prevent Urinary Tract Infections UTIs

As we age, the hypothalamus — which helps keep the body’s internal functions in balance including activating our thirst — isn’t as active as it used to be, so the brain doesn’t always give the signal that we need to drink. We need to ensure that our seniors consume appropriate amounts of fluids, whether they feel thirsty or not. We all are cognizant of maintaining good hydration in hot weather but daily hydration is part of the optimum of health even in cold weather.

If you lose more water than you take in, you can easily become dehydrated.

Common causes of dehydration include:

  • Lack of thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever and infections
  • Response to some medications

There are also other causes for dehydration that may not be so obvious.  

  • Older adults may voluntarily limit their daily water intake because of a fear of becoming incontinent or “having an accident” while in public.
  • Caregivers (family members and paid caregivers) may not be aware of the amount of water the senior is drinking during the day and assumes that the older adult is taking in adequate amounts of water.
  • For the most vulnerable, the older adult may be unable to ask for a drink of water when they are thirsty.

The symptoms of dehydration in adults are:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Less frequent urination
  • Dark-colored, smelly urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

We all must be adequately hydrated because the lack of water affects the acuity of the brain, the kidneys, creates electrolyte imbalances, stress on the heart, confusion, urinary tract infections (UTIs).

 Below are suggestions to ensure we all maintain an adequate daily water intake

  • Education of caregivers both family and formal caregivers.
  • Make water interesting to taste. Add fruit slices and cucumbers to the water
  • Serve room temperature water; sensitive teeth may hurt when drinking cold water
  • Add fruits and vegetables naturally high in water content to meals and snacks.
  • Consider ice pops or fruit slushes to increase water intake
  • Provide straws and an easy to hold cup
  • Keep a glass of water easily accessible to the senior and as a reminder to drink up!
  • Encourage a sip of water between bites during a meal. This clears the throat and increases the water intake
  • Keep a record of daily liquid intake
  • Set an alarm as a reminder to drink water throughout the day
  • Discuss with the health care team any liquid restrictions that may be in place
  • Alcohol and caffeinated drinks (coffee, soda, tea) are dehydrating drinks.

Adapting to changes in our body, like a decreased sensitivity to dehydration, is a key element of healthy aging. These changes can often occur slowly over time, and only rise to an individual’s attention when the problem becomes severe.

Small changes in lifestyle and habits can have a big impact on someone’s long-term health, but making changes alone can be a challenge.  SelectCare’s team of home health care experts has more than 35 years of experience guiding older adults through these changes, providing support and guidance to ensure clients can age in their long-time homes with confidence and independence.

If you are concerned with new challenges associated with aging, either for yourself or a loved one, now might be the time to contact SelectCare and learn more about how we can help.