Elderly Couple enjoying a drink a water.
Elderly Couple enjoying a drink a water.

Dehydration can be deadly for seniors

Dehydration is a common and very serious condition in older adults – it can even result in death.

For seniors, dehydration can cause many major health problems, including:

  • Kidney stones
  • Blood clot complications
  • Passing out
  • Rapid but weak pulse
  • Lowered blood pressure

Being hydrated is also very important for certain medications to work properly.

Dehydration is a common problem among seniors

In one study, 31% of residents in a long-term care facility were dehydrated. In a related study, 48% of older adults who were admitted to the hospital after being treated in the emergency room had signs of dehydration in their lab tests.

Why do seniors get dehydrated?

There are many factors that make seniors more likely to become dehydrated.

Common reasons include:

  • Being less sensitive to the feeling of being thirsty
  • Decreased ability to keep fluid levels in balance
  • Less efficient kidneys, which causes urine to contain more water
  • Common medications (like those for blood pressure) flushing water from the body
  • Medications causing side effects like diarrhea or excessive sweating

How much water do seniors need?

A general rule of thumb for how much water to drink each day is to take one-third of the person’s body weight in pounds and drink that number of ounces of water.

For example, a 150 pound person would need 50 ounces of water daily, which is about six 8 ounce glasses of water. Of course, if the weather is very hot or dry, compensate by having them drink more water than usual.

It’s helpful to get an idea of how much water intake is healthy for the average person. But, because each older adult takes different medications and has different health issues, it’s important to talk with their doctor to find out how much water is best.

Benefits of drinking enough water

Aside from avoiding the scary health consequences, staying well hydrated has its benefits too.

Here are a few:

  • Less constipation / less need for laxatives
  • Fewer falls
  • Reduced risk of urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Men may have reduced risk of bladder cancer
  • Reduced risk of colorectal cancer

SIGNS OF ELDERLY DEHYDRATION

Signs of dehydration in seniors may include:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dizziness or headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Inability to sweat or produce tears
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low urine output
  • Constipation

If you suspect dehydration in an elderly loved one, you can check for a decrease in skin turgor by pulling up the skin on the back of the hand for a few seconds; if it does not return to normal almost immediately, the person is dehydrated.

PREVENTING DEHYDRATION IN SENIORS

To help make sure your loved one doesn’t suffer from dehydration, make sure he or she consumes an adequate amount of fluids during the day; eats healthy, water-content foods such as fruit, vegetables and soups; checks that urine color is light and output adequate (dark urine or infrequency of urination is a classic sign of dehydration).

Seniors also need to be educated to drink even when they’re not thirsty. Keeping a water bottle next to the bed or their favorite chair could help, especially if they have mobility issues.

If your loved one is in a care facility, make sure that the staff has a hydration program in place that includes assisting residents with drinking, offering a variety of beverages, and providing drinks not only at mealtimes but in between meals. Also make sure that they monitor residents’ weight and assess them if their physical condition or mental state changes. If dehydration is an issue, and your loved one takes laxatives or diuretics, speak to his or her doctor about changing medication.

As with most illnesses, prevention is the key. Making sure your loved one stays hydrated now is much easier than treating him or her for dehydration later.

The best thing to do is try to prevent it from happening, but it’s much easier said than done to increase their fluid intake! To help with this sometimes frustrating mission, we rounded up creative tips from fellow caregivers.

6 ways to get seniors to drink more water

1. Remember there are many sources of fluids
Older adults don’t have to drink only plain water to get hydrated. Coffee, tea, fruit juice, sweetened beverages, fruits (especially watermelon and other melons) and vegetables all contain water. If your senior really hates drinking fluids, serve them more foods with high water content to increase their hydration.

2. Keep water easily accessible
Normally, when we walk by a water fountain, we tend to take a drink, and we tend to drink when we eat. Therefore, making it easy for seniors to serve themselves could encourage them to drink more water. Try putting an insulated drinking container or a lightweight pitcher of fresh water and a cup near their favorite seat.

3. Experiment with beverages at different temperatures
Your senior may prefer hot drinks to cold, or the other way around. Experiment to find out which type they like better. Try warming up juices, making decaf iced coffee with cream, or adding soda water to make drinks bubbly.

4. Try something savory
Those who like savory foods may enjoy drinking hot soup broth. The broth can come from a can, box, or powder, but some older adults really like it – especially in cold weather.

5. Make popsicles
Homemade popsicles made from fruit juice or a mix of juice and water are a great summer treat. But they’re also a great way to get fluids into your senior.

6. Offer smoothies, milkshakes, Ensure, sports drinks
Some stubborn older adults may really resist drinking fluids. If so, you can try enticing them with smoothies, milkshakes, Ensure, or sports drinks. Sometimes they’ll like the flavor or texture and be willing to drink these beverages.

Bottom line

These are a few ideas to help you coax your senior into drinking more water. What’s important is to be creative and arm yourself with many different ideas in case their preferences change.

Be careful of health issues and check with the doctor when you have questions. For example, don’t give high sodium drinks to someone with high blood pressure, milkshakes to someone already overweight with high cholesterol, or heavily sweetened drinks to a diabetic.

Credit: By DailyCaring Editorial Team  DailyCaring.com

Image: Depositphotos