smiling female caregiver helping a serniuor elder man with drinking a glass of water in a senior care home, making sure he is not dehydrated

Dehydration in Elderly People

Dehydration in Elderly – Risks, Warning Signs, and Prevention Tips : Did you know that the consequences of dehydration in elderly adults are often serious—more so than in younger people? Seniors also have more risk factors for becoming dehydrated. Dehydrated patients are six times more likely to die in the hospital than patients who are not dehydrated.

clear blue backdrop with a medium sized transparent glass half filled with water and a slice of orange hanging off the rim. Dehydration in elderly people

What Is Dehydration?
Water is the source of life. That may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s true. Throughout our senior’s life, water is essential for many  body’s functions, including:

Temperature regulation
Waste elimination
Joint lubrication
Delivery of nutrients to cells
Blood oxygen circulation
Skin hydration
Cognitive function

Many seniors experience at least one of the following risk factors:

1. Seniors Physical Changes
But what makes this lack of thirst in elderly people particularly troublesome is that they are generally dehydrated before they feel thirsty. So the senior gets dehydrated quickly because they can’t always recognize the signs of needing to take a drink until it’s too late.

This reduced sense of thirst is often more pronounced in seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia or in those who have had a stroke. Such Luxcare  seniors may also have difficulties swallowing or asking for a drink. As a result, our seniors with dementia often need their fluid intake to be carefully monitored.

2. Be alert on medication side effects

Many medications that are commonly prescribed to seniors can act as diuretics (i.e., they can increase the production of urine) and contribute to dehydration.

3. Incontinence issues
The risk for dehydration associated with incontinence isn’t necessarily caused by the fluid lost through involuntary urination. Rather, it’s related to the fact that our seniors restrict their fluid intake because they don’t want any awkward accidents.

However, it’s important to note that reducing fluid intake doesn’t necessarily prevent incontinence. In fact, encourage our seniors to drink more water three hours before their bedtime which may actually help our seniors deal with incontinence.

As well, when an elderly is dehydrated, their bladder can become more irritable and vulnerable to bacterial infection. So staying hydrated can reduce the risk of UTIs (urinary tract infection).

4. Fear of falling
If seniors resist drinking water it is because they worry about falling if they have to get up at night to pee. But being dehydrated is also a risk factor for falling.

However, it’s often a good idea to increase fluid intake during the day and less before bedtime hours for our seniors.

5. Medical issues
Many seniors have medical conditions that can lead to dehydration. Examples of health problems than can result in fluid loss include diarrhea, fever, and diabetes.

Caregiver must be aware of dehydration symptoms in in our seniors. In the initial stages, you can tell if an our senior is dehydrated by checking for the following signs of mild dehydration:

  • Cracked lips
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry skin, particularly in the armpits
  • Less frequent urination than normal

More severe effects of dehydration in the elderly are:

  • Dark-colored urine (instead of what it should be: the color of pale straw)
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Dizziness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle cramps
  • Crying without tears
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Fainting

However, it’s important to keep this in mind: Dehydration symptoms in elderly adults aren’t always clear-cut. For example, some medications can affect the color of urine. As well, although dehydration can cause hallucinations in the elderly, cognitive changes from dementia or even side effects from certain medications are also sometimes responsible for the experience of perceiving things that aren’t there.

Here’s one good strategy: If an elder experiences any of the symptoms above, simply encourage our senior to drink some water, then see if the symptoms improve in 10 to 15 minutes.

Call for help if you experience dehydration and or any confusion, unexplained irritability, or sleepiness.

But for moderate dehydration, intravenous (IV) treatment is often necessary. And in severe cases, further intervention may be required. For example, if kidneys are affected, he or she may require dialysis. 

If your loved one is experiencing confusion or other more serious signs of dehydration you may need to be admitted to the hospital.

So the treatment and time required for recovery from dehydration, in elderly people especially, depends a lot on the degree of the problem, as well as on the person’s overall health. But taking fast action can help reduce the recovery time for our dehydrated seniors.

How to Prevent Dehydration in the Elderly

Here’s what’s best: Consider all of the factors that can influence how much water our seniors need to drink, including any medications they take, client body weight, and activity level. 

In part because of their reduced sense of thirst, many older people find it difficult to get enough fluid in a day. Here are some tips that can make beverages more appealing:

Keep in mind that not all fluids come in a glass.

Many foods contain a lot of water. Vegetables, most fruits, and soups can all contribute to your daily fluid intake. (In fact, when elderly people stop eating, they increase their risk for dehydration because they are no longer getting any fluids from food.) You should try using a little creativity by making  blending smoothies with fresh greens.

Keep drinks nearby and visible.
Seniors often miss out on drinking fluids because they simply forget or can’t access them. An attractive water bottle provides a portable way to always have a drink at hand. 

Make drinks enticing and consider alternatives to water.
Some seniors find water a bit too boring. Adding a little juice or a flavored drink mix can boost its appeal. Sparkling water is also a nice change.During winter season can make healthy soups for our seniors to increase fluid intake and keep them warm.

So if you know our  senior who is struggling to get enough fluids, ask what his or her preferred non-alcoholic drink is. (But remember that diabetics should limit sweet drinks, and seniors with hypertension should limit drinks with sodium.)

Seniors in residential or long-term care facilities can face extra challenges in getting enough fluids. 

Knowledge Is Prevention
Being aware of the risk of dehydration is the first step toward averting it. So don’t hesitate to talk to your healthcare providers about creating strategies for getting enough fluids. And watch for the warning signs of dehydration. Although dehydration in elderly people can be serious, it’s also preventable and treatable.

2 thoughts on “Dehydration in Elderly People”

  1. That’s a good point that not all fluids come or drinking water. I feel like it would be important to make sure that they could keep up with drinking water when they can’t take care of themselves. I should take a look into getting someone to help my parents eat and drink things that will keep them hydrated when they get too old to take care of themselves.

  2. That’s a good point that there would be a lot of health issues that would come with dehydration. I could see how that would make you pretty uncomfortable as well if you couldn’t get any water. When my dad gets old enough to go to a senior care facility, then I’ll have to help him get one that would provide him with plenty of water.

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