Why Dehydration Is a Common Problem Among Seniors

Dehydration is a serious health concern for the elderly. It can cause various health problems and, in some cases, even be fatal. Several things can increase the risk of dehydration for elderly people, including:

  • Living in a hot climate
  • Not being able to get up and move around easily
  • Taking certain medications
  • Having a chronic condition such as diabetes or kidney disease
  • Not drinking enough fluids

This article discusses the underlying issues that can result in dehydration among seniors. It is important for elderly people and their caregivers to be aware of the risk of dehydration and how to prevent it. Drinking enough fluids is one of the most important ways to prevent dehydration. Caregivers should encourage their loved ones to drink plenty of water, juice, and other fluids throughout the day.

What Is Dehydration?

You certainly have heard and read the word “dehydration” many times. With that said, you may not really have a complete understanding of what is meant by dehydration. A condition that results when the body loses more fluid than it takes in, dehydration can be caused by many things, including vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating. If left untreated, dehydration can lead to serious health problems.

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration in Seniors

It is vital to be as proactive as possible in recognizing the signs and symptoms of dehydration. In seniors, the effects of dehydration can progress quickly and become serious in very little time.

The signs of early or mild dehydration include:

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

Symptoms of more severe dehydration include:

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

You do need to bear in mind that dehydration symptoms in seniors are not always clear-cut. For example, some medications can affect the color of urine.

There exists a decent strategy to see if a senior might be dehydrated.

If some of the symptoms discussed in this article appear present, the senior should drink some water. When that is done, symptoms improve in 10 to 15 minutes.

Common Causes of Dehydration for Seniors

There are several more commonplace causes of dehydration among seniors that include:

  • Age-related physical changes
  • Medication side effects
  • Incontinence issues
  • Fear of falling
  • Living conditions
  • Medical issues

Age-Related Physical Issues

As we age, our bodies contain less water. This is partly because our kidneys become less efficient. At birth, we are about 75 percent water. A senior’s body is approximately 50 percent water, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to Nutrition and Healthy Aging, research studies have found that although seniors are at greater risk for dehydration, they drink less water than younger people. In many instances, this is a result of the fact that seniors experience a weakened sense of thirst. They do not always realize they are thirsty and need to drink something.

Scientists are still determining why this happens. But what makes this lack of thirst in elderly people troublesome is that we’re generally dehydrated before we feel thirsty. Seniors need to get dehydrated quickly because they can’t always recognize the signs of needing to take a drink.

Medication Side Effects

Many medications that are commonly prescribed to seniors can act as diuretics. In other words, these drugs increase urine production. One of the side effects can be dehydration. When receiving a new prescription, it is important that a senior fully understand potential side effects, including the risk of dehydration.

Incontinence Issues

It is important to understand that the risk for dehydration associated with incontinence isn’t necessarily caused by the fluid lost through involuntary urination. The fact is that dehydration often is related to many seniors restricting their fluid intake because they do not have an “accident.”

Fear of Falling

Some seniors resist drinking water because they worry about falling if they have to get up at night to urinate. With that said, it is important to note that being dehydrated is also a risk factor for falling.

Living Conditions

Seniors living in nursing homes tend to be more likely to become dehydrated. This is because they often depend on staff members to help them with their fluid intake. Nutrition and Healthy Aging noted that the highest risk for dehydration is among seniors who seem physically capable of getting a drink but have cognitive issues that cause them to forget to drink.

Medical Issues

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

How Much Water Should a Senior Drink Daily?

There is no definitive answer to this question, as the amount of optimal water for seniors may vary depending on factors such as age, activity level, and climate. However, a generally recommended intake is around eight 8-ounce glasses per day.

There are many ways to help seniors increase their water intake, including adding water to their diet through fruits and vegetables, drinking herbal tea, or using a straw to drink juice or other beverages. If needed, families can also help seniors by reminding them to drink water and providing them with easy access to fluids throughout the day.

Benefits of Staying Hydrated to Seniors

In conclusion, a senior can enjoy many important benefits by staying hydrated. According to the National Institute on Aging, these benefits for seniors include:

  • Water can help you lose weight or maintain your current weight
  • Water boosts your energy and metabolism
  • Water keeps your skin looking younger and healthier
  • Water prevents constipation and other digestion problems
  • Water regulates your blood pressure
  • Water flushes toxins out of your body
  • Water reduces the risk of kidney stones and other urinary tract infections