Healthy Hydration for Seniors
by Jessica Hegg

senior woman drinking water

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Hydration for seniors is an important health issue throughout the year, but especially during the summer months when chances of heat waves and temperatures are much higher.

During a tragic heat wave in France in 2003, fourteen thousand people diedmost of them older adults and a large percentage from dehydration.

Occurrences like these make healthy hydration not just a personal health issue, but a public health issue as well.

For seniors, the risks and signs of dehydration may look different than those for children or younger adults. It’s important to know what to look out for if you’re an older adult or provide care for one.

Risks of Dehydration

What makes older adults more susceptible to dehydration? A handful of key risk factors are important to keep in mind:

  • Diminished Thirst Function: A natural side effect of aging is a diminished thirst function, which plainly put, means the older you get, the less likely you may be to feel thirsty, even when you are dehydrated. Why is that? Researchers believe that muscles which weaken with age, both in the throat and stomach, are less likely to send signals to the brain regarding fullness and thirst. Older people may drink less water and feel just as full and satiated, when in truth, they need to be drinking much more.
  • Taking More Medicine: While 92% of older adults report having a chronic illness, over 75% report having two diseases, according to the National Council on Aging. The rate at which older adults take prescription and over the counter medicines as they age can actually put them at risk for dehydration. How? Many medicines used to treat and aid illness can also act as diuretics, causing the user to eliminate more fluids than they might normally would. Other medicines may cause a person to sweat more than usual as well. If they are not replacing those fluids regularly, the water balance in their body can quickly shift.
  • Unable to Drink: Dysphagia, the term which refers to difficulty or uncomfortable swallowing, affects many older adults. General wear and tear from aging has made throat muscles weak, or chronic disease or injury has negatively impacted their ability to swallow. An estimated 6 million seniors live with dysphagia in the U.S. according to a 2012 report. With dysphagia, all liquids must be thickened to be properly swallowed, and oftentimes, it takes more time and effort to drink a glass of water, hence making continuous hydration that much more difficult.
  • Need More Help Getting Water: Elderly adults may not be in a position to easily get up and get themselves water regularly, especially if they have mobility issues or cognitive decline. They must rely on caregivers to keep track of their fluid intake and recognize when they may be thirsty and should be drinking.

Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration may present in interesting and surprising ways, especially in older adults, which caregivers and family should be aware of.

Dehydration can exacerbate disorientation associated with dementia, Sundowner's syndrome, Alzheimer’s and other chronic conditions of the brain and nervous system. Other signs of dehydration may include:

  • Confusion and agitation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Inability to sweat or produce tears
  • Low urine output
  • Constipation
  • Sunken eyes, dark circles
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Trouble walking

The onset of dehydration will not always be gradual either. You or your loved one may feel fine one minute and suddenly experience confusion and a drop in blood pressure the next.

Vigilant attention to water intake as well as monitoring for signs of dehydration is a must.

Tips for Drinking More Water

When it comes to preventing dehydration, don’t miss these quick tips and best practices to ensure adequate hydration for seniors:

  • Drink a full glass with pills - drink an entire glass of water when you take medicine
  • Leave a glass in the restroom - drink a glass of water every time you use the restroom
  • Eat water-rich foods - consume extra fluids via water-rich fruits, veggies, soups, and smoothies
  • Track hydration - keep a written log or record of fluids consumed daily to stay on top of hydration
  • Schedule drinking - in the same way as monitoring intake, a schedule for drinking water throughout the day can help prevent dehydration, even try setting alarms to remember

Staying hydrated can mean the difference between life and death, especially for older adults and the elderly.

With the right knowledge, helpful tips, and acute monitoring, however, keeping up with healthy fluid intake can be made much easier!

Guest contributor Jessica Hegg is the content manager at Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living a healthy lifestyle. 

Return from Healthy Hydration for Seniors to Dehydration Effects

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