How Older Adults Can Avoid Dehydration
By: Mohit Negi, MD
Water is very important for your body to be able to function properly. For example, water helps regulate your temperature, gets rid of wastes and lubricates your joints. Dehydration means that the body doesn't have enough fluid to work at its best. Dehydration can cause constipation, electrolyte imbalances, kidney problems and loss of balance. Severe dehydration can lead to a hospital visit or even death.
While it is vitally important for everyone to get enough to drink, older adults are particularly at risk for dehydration. One of the biggest risk factors is that there are fewer "water reserves" as we age because the amount of water in our bodies decreases with age. In addition, people tend to not feel as thirsty as they get older because their thirst response weakens. Also, your kidneys don't work as well when you get older, so you may lose more water during urination than you used to. And to top it off, many older adults are on medications or have health conditions that affect the way the body processes water which can affect how much water is in the body.
There are additional factors that can lead to dehydration that often affect many older adults. Hot or humid conditions can cause water loss through sweating, so try to limit time in these environments and drink more water if you find yourself in the heat.
Anyone who is already sick with a fever, vomiting or diarrhea is already losing fluids and should take in fluids to compensate. Someone who has had vomiting and diarrhea can also lose electrolytes and may benefit from drinking electrolytes such as those found in sports drinks and Pedialyte.
To prevent dehydration, you should drink water throughout the day. Water is best, but other drinks can also be helpful like milk, flavored sparkling water, and low-sugar fruit juices. Even frequent small sips are helpful if you cannot drink a full glass at a time. Coffee and tea actually have a diuretic effect, so drink these sparingly.
Some foods can be hydrating, including watermelon, cucumber, celery, strawberries and low sodium broths or soups.
If you care for an older adult, remind then to drink throughout the day, particularly at mealtimes and after they exercise or exert themselves. Limited mobility makes it harder to get something to drink, leaving them at higher risk for dehydration. Keep water in easy reach, especially if they have low mobility. Additionally, help them access the restroom easier if they are afraid to drink because of possible accidents.
It is important to be aware of the common signs of dehydration, which include a dry mouth, fatigue, sunken eyes, a decrease in the amount of urine, dark colored urine, muscle cramping, and feeling dizzy or lightheaded. The treatment for dehydration is simply replacing the lost fluids by drinking water or other fluids, like juices or broths.
If the dehydration is serious, it requires immediate attention. These symptoms are a rapid heart rate, trouble moving or walking, confusion or disorientation, fainting and/or vomiting or diarrhea that lasts longer than 24 hours. Anyone suffering from these symptoms should go to the emergency room right away where they will most likely receive intravenous fluids and electrolytes.
If dehydration isn't treated, serious complications or even death can occur.
If you have an underlying health condition, like COPD, heart failure, kidney disease or diabetes, it is very important to talk to your health care provider about what amount of fluids you need to drink for your body to be hydrated and healthy.
Dr. Mohit Negi is a senior care provider and medical director of senior care at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Group in Millersville. Call 410-553-2900 for more information or to schedule an appointment.
This article also appeared in The Capital Gazette on July 3, 2021: https://www.capitalgazette.com/opinion/columns/ac-ce-how-older-adults-can-avoid-dehydration-bwmc-20210703-k5dvtt6ojvc2vejd576pfhv6ia-story.html