Dehydration: Risk factors seniors should know

Published 10:40 am Monday, July 11, 2022

With the summer months upon us, particularly for those of us living in the south, heat can be a silent killer if we fail to drink enough water.  Water is the source of life; it helps our bodies with functions like temperature regulation, waste elimination, joint lubrication, delivery of nutrients to cells, blood oxygen circulation, skin moisturizing, and even our cognitive functioning.

Dehydration is a condition that occurs when your body doesn’t have enough water to sustain these vital processes. Seniors may not be aware that their bodies don’t have or receive enough water daily because they don’t consider that we all lose water from our bodies through normal bodily functions like sweating, urinating, and breathing. The complications of dehydration in the elderly can cause serious health consequences. It may surprise you to learn that dehydration is one of the top 10 reasons for seniors to be hospitalized, and for hospitalized seniors, dehydration can lead to longer stays in intensive care units, increased hospital readmissions, and more placements in long-term care facilities.

Seniors are more prone to dehydration than younger adults for several reasons.  As we age our kidneys become less efficient, and studies have found that seniors tend to drink less water, on average, than younger people. That’s often because seniors experience a weakened sense of thirst, neglect taking on fluids before they feel thirsty, and don’t always realize when they need to drink something 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 as well as in those who have had a stroke. Some seniors may also have difficulties swallowing or asking their caregivers for a drink.

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Many medications also have side effects that can increase the production of urine and contribute to dehydration. Medicines, particularly blood pressure medications, antihistamines, antacids, and heart medications fall in this category and should be discussed with a physician.

Incontinence is another risk factor for dehydration primarily because some elderly people will restrict their fluid consumption to reduce awkward accidents. However, it’s important to note that reducing fluid intake doesn’t necessarily prevent incontinence. According to the National Association for Continence, drinking more water may help some seniors deal with incontinence. and staying hydrated can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections.

Having to get up in the middle of the night is another concern for some seniors who worry about falling, but the medical fact is that drinking less and being dehydrated is a risk factor for falling. A better approach may be to stay well hydrated throughout the day and taper your consumption of fluids a few hours before going to bed. A few of the signs of dehydration are cracked lips, dry mouth, infrequent urination, increased heart rate and muscle cramps, but dehydration symptoms in adults who are in their senior years aren’t always clear-cut.

Taking proactive strategies can help prevent dehydration. Being aware of the risks is a good first step. So is remembering this simple fact: Elderly people can stay hydrated by drinking enough water. If an elderly person is dehydrated, you should give him or her a glass of water right away, but if the symptoms don’t improve, it’s a good idea to call 911.

Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging. You may contact him by phone at (828) 696-9799 or by email at: drron561@gmail.com