Summer is upon us, which means that it’s hot, humid, and your perspiration rate is at its highest. And the more you sweat, the more likely you are to experience symptoms of dehydration if you’re elderly. Staying well-hydrated is important year-round, but especially important during these steamy summer months.
The hydration status of older adults is often an issue. Dehydration in seniors occurs more often than younger people due to the decrease in lean body mass that occurs as we age, which also decreases the total amount of water in your body. Even mild stresses such as a fever or hot weather can precipitate rapid symptoms of dehydration in the elderly.
As we age, we become less sensitive to sensations of thirst or mouth dryness, and therefore may not drink as much as we should. Problems with swallowing, dementia or depression may cause individuals to forget to eat or drink. Decreased mobility may make it difficult for older adults to get a drink as well as get to the bathroom. Fear of incontinence, in general, is another reason for decreased fluid intake and subsequent dehydration in seniors. Dehydration can also be caused by decreased kidney function, or increased fluid losses due to increased urine output from medications, including laxatives or diuretics.
Let’s take a look at the common signs and symptoms of dehydration in seniors as well as how they can stay properly hydrated:
The Breakdown of Dehydration In Seniors
Dehydration is defined as a 2% body weight loss due to a water deficit and can have some serious side effects in older adults. Normally, when your body temperature rises above normal there is an increased blood flow to the skin where heat dissipates through sweating. Your skin cools as sweat evaporates, cooling your blood. This, in turn, cools your body returning it back to a healthy temperature. Dehydration, however, impairs your body’s ability to regulate body temperature.
Water is the most important nutrient and largest component of the body, making up 50-75% of the body’s weight. You can survive several weeks without food but only a few days without water. This is due to the fact that your body has no storage site for water. Maintenance of fluid balance is essential for normal physiological function at all ages, but dehydration in seniors can be especially troubling for a number of reasons.
Symptoms of Dehydration In The Elderly
Dehydration in seniors can have serious side effects. It increases your resting heart rate, makes you more susceptible to developing urinary tract infection, pneumonia, and pressure ulcers. It can also lead to constipation, confusion, and delirium. Excessive dehydration can cause heat stroke, heat exhaustion and can even lead to death.
The symptoms of dehydration in the elderly can often be mistaken for other issues, but here is what to be aware of:
Altered effects of regular drugs and medications
Dry mouth and nose
Urine color and output: Ideally, your urine should be no darker than the color of lemonade. Any darker than this indicates dehydration. Low urine output also indicates dehydration.
Dehydration in older adults is often unrecognized because it can cause falls, confusion, change in level of consciousness, weakness or change in functional status or fatigue.
How to Prevent Dehydration In The Elderly
To prevent dehydration in the elderly, it is recommended to drink at least 6-8 cups of fluid per day. Water (tap, bottled or flavored--not sugared!) is always the best beverage choice. Water is generally accessible, adds no calories and provides trace minerals needed for metabolism. Some individuals don’t like plain water, however, so how else can you get your fluid needs?
Many beverages provide essential nutrients in addition to providing fluid. Tea, especially green tea, may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Tea also contains compounds called flavonoids that act as antioxidants.
Low-fat/skim milk is a great source of calcium, protein, riboflavin, and Vitamin D.
Regular use of cranberry juice reduces urinary tract infection in older women. Cranberry juice interferes with certain medications, however. You should check with your doctor before regularly drinking cranberry juice.
Other sources of fluid include natural fruit or vegetable juices, shakes, and soups. These choices also provide extra calories for those who are underweight or have a hard time maintaining their weight.
Soda should be used sparingly as it contains empty calories, excess sugar and promotes unwanted weight gain. Alcohol and caffeine should also be avoided as they promote dehydration. Inadequate fluid intake can cause several health issues and can even lead to death. It is essential to properly hydrate in order to maintain good health.
Making sure you stay hydrated is important year-round, but especially during the hot summer months when individuals are more susceptible to dehydration. One of the best ways to help prevent a fatal result when it comes to dehydration in seniors is by investing in a medical alert device. Medical Guardian offers a wide variety of medical alert systems that can help keep seniors safe in emergency situations, including experiencing dehydration.
By Guest Blogger Robin Amylon
Robin Amylon is an NYC-based Nutritionist. She received her Bachelor of Science from Queens College in Nutrition and Exercise Science and is currently finishing a program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital to become a Dietitian.