Dehydration in Seniors: Causes, Symptoms & Tips for Prevention

Dehydration in Seniors: Causes, Symptoms & Tips for Prevention

Seniors Are High Risk for Dehydration

The summer months of 2018 have been sunny and true to California’s reputation as the sunshine state. This sunshine has produced amazing days with highs in the low 90s and temperatures that stick around the 80s even at 10 o’clock pm. For teenagers on summer break, this weather is ideal for living it up on the beach and enjoying being young. However, that is not the reality for everyone. The heat throughout southern California often leads to problematic dehydration. Many people don’t realize that seniors need to consistently hydrate themselves because as we age, the amount of water in the body decreases. Younger people can tolerate the loss of water, but if an elderly person loses the same amount of water as a young person, it would be more detrimental to their health than to the younger person’s.

Being young and youthful is not the reality that many Americans face. Even Americans under the age of 60 generally spend way too much time engaged in a lifestyle that foregoes adequate hydration. For Americans over the age of 60, the symptoms of dehydration may not be readily detected externally, but internally, serious effects are at play. Dehydration is the condition of losing body fluid at a rate that is faster than its replenishment. If this continues for a long enough time, the body begins to slow down to preserve itself, putting normal body function at risk. The more you perspire, the more water you need to drink to bring the body into balance. Athletes and power lifters will consume a gallon of water a day to remain hydrated and keep their bodies in peak condition.

Causes of Dehydration

You might be asking yourself, “Educators don’t spend much time teaching the signs of dehydration in school, so is it really that big a deal?” The answer is, “Yes, especially in older adults.” Dehydration is common in the elderly. Many people live with chronic dehydration, and this could be due to many factors in their lives. Dehydration is not an immediate risk to many people’s health; however, if not treated for a prolonged period, it is detrimental. The fluid reserve in an elderly person’s body is much less than that in a younger person’s body, and, contrary to common belief, this will actually make seniors feel less thirsty, when, in fact, they need to drink more water.

Here are some common conditions that can increase the risk of dehydration:

  • Having five or more chronic diseases
  • Being on five or more medications
  • Being bedridden
  • Having Alzheimer’s
  • Being isolated
  • Having poor ambulation
  • Feeling less thirsty
  • Having cardiac issues

Some medications can worsen dehydration in these two ways: 1) taking prescriptions without drinking water; and 2) causing patients to sweat more. Oftentimes, these medications are blood pressure and anti-depressant prescriptions. If the medication affects strength, then the person may not be able to get up and get themselves a glass of water. Being bedridden or having poor mobility may cause many people to be fearful of falling. For the elderly person, the risk of falling and, as a result, going to the hospital are deterrents, so they choose to sit or lay contently without taking in the proper amount of water for their body.

Not everyone is fortunate to have family members take care of them, so if they are looking after themselves, they tend to stay in bed or their chair and not bother with drinking enough fluids, especially if they must go to another part of the home. Further, a cocktail of medications and old age may cause the kidneys to perform less efficiently than previously, and the problem is increased with inadequate fluids.

Signs & Symptoms of Dehydration

Everyone wants to live the best quality life possible, yet when dehydrated, people notice their sense of balance is shaky, cognitive thought processes are uncertain, and stress on their hearts is increased.

Dehydration can be tricky because its symptoms may not be the same from one person to another. Because of this, it is important that the families and caregivers stay informed on the effects of dehydration and how to identify and remedy it. Unfortunately, there are numerous signs and symptoms of dehydration and these may, in turn, point to other health issues, as well.

The signs and symptoms of dehydration may include:

 

·        Confusion

·        Weakness

·        Urinary Tract Infection

·        Pneumonia

·        Dizziness

·        Dark Yellow Urine

·        Dry Skin

·        Muscle Cramps

·        Skin Tenting

·        No Tears

·        Dry Mouth

·        Exhaustion

 

 

When any of these signs are present, hydrating the individual is more than likely the best remedy.

If a caregiver or family member notices that a senior appears confused or weak and the state is a change from their usual state, then they should consider hydrating the elder person.

If an elderly person contracts a urinary tract infection (UTI), and they are taken to the hospital, a full panel of tests should be run on their urine and blood to make sure that the persistent dehydration is not pointing to a larger problem within the body.

Skin tenting refers to the elasticity of the skin and how quickly it bounces back to its original shape. If a person is hydrated, then the skin will quickly bounce back, but if a person is dehydrated, then the skin will stay in place or only slowly move back to its normal state.

We all feel tired and lethargic when we do not have the correct amount of water, and these feelings are magnified in an older person.

Tips to Reduce Risk of Dehydration

Now that we know the major causes and symptoms of dehydration, we need to take steps to prevent dehydration. It is by far easier and less costly to proactively prevent dehydration than to reactively treat it with a visit to the hospital.

Here are some tips to reduce the risk of dehydration:

  1. Reduce the intake of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages
    • Coffee, tea, and alcohol dehydrate the body regardless of age
  2. If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated
    • Keep fluids around and frequently take sips
  3. Eat foods with high water content
    • Fruits, veggies, and soups all contain water and can replenish the body
  4. Track water intake
    • It might be good to measure the water intake and outtake to establish a balance between the two. This will help to monitor the proper level of hydration.
  5. Educate!
    • Everyone involved in the care process should learn the signs of dehydration and how to prevent and treat it.

Remember, normal hydration rates are different from person to person, so the “eight glasses a day” rule might not be ideal for everyone. Your body retains water from not only what you eat but also from what you drink.

Summary

One of the most vulnerable population of people affected by dehydration are seniors. This is true for many reasons, including medications, kidney functionality, and aging.Having an aware and informed society is the first step to providing adequate hydration, as well as quality care, to help our senior citizens live long and vital lives.

Contact us for more information regarding the care of senior citizens in the comfort of their homes.

 

 

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