As the heat of summer fades away, so might our awareness of how important it is for us and especially our elderly family members to stay hydrated. Dehydration can be difficult to detect, especially in the elderly. However, its effect on health can be dramatic and even life-threatening.
Water content in the body decreases with age, especially in women. Dehydration can occur quickly. Depending on overall health, humans can’t survive more than 3-4 days without water. Although knowing the symptoms of dehydration and its damaging effects can be important, having a strategy for prevention is the most important thing for the elderly and their caregivers to focus on.
Risk Factors for Elderly Dehydration
At 96, my father had difficulty swallowing and easily aspirated liquids, unless they were thickened. Keeping him hydrated was a challenge. He would eat fruit and ice cream, but he refused most vegetables and soup, so he didn’t get a lot of water from his food. Swallowing disorders can be caused by aging, stroke, Parkinson’s disease or dementia.
Other risk factors that heighten the chance of developing dehydration include:
- Not feeling thirsty
- Memory issues
- Diarrhea,vomiting, excessive sweating
- Chronic health issues
- Some medications
- Diminished drinking due tofear of incontinence
- Fear of falling anytime they get up
Dangers of Dehydration
These and other dangerous health problems should cause us to suspect and want to prevent dehydration in the elderly:
- Urinary tract infections
- Aspirational pneumonia
- Severely dry skin and pressure sores
- Joint pain and muscle cramps
- Cognitive issues
- Kidney stones and function
- Low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat
Keeping an elderly person hydrated can require constant monitoring. Some of these signs may indicate dehydration and noticing them might help to prevent other conditions. See if drinking more water helps. If not, check with a doctor to determine the seriousness of:
- Low urine output or dark-colored urine
- Dry mouth
- Inability to sweat or produce tears
- Temperature regulation difficulty
- Dizziness or difficulty walking
- Headaches, confusion
- Sunken eyes
Strategies to Prevent Dehydration
Staying hydrated is more difficult the older you get. One can’t rely on feeling thirsty, and it’s often more difficult to get up and get something to drink. Some strategies to help prevent dehydration are:
- Include foods with high water content in your loved one’s diet. Examples: fresh fruits and vegetables, soup, dairy products.
- Keep a water bottle or glass of water within easy reach.
- Encourage drinking a glass of water or another beverage with every meal. Offer a choice.
- Drink small amounts frequently throughout the day and less at bedtime.
- Schedule other consistent times when a glass of water is offered, like after going to the bathroom or brushing teeth.
- Require drinking more than just a swallow or two of liquid with medications.
- Give reminders that it’s important to drink liquids regularly, even when they’re not thirsty.
- Consume caffeinated drinks in moderation. Too much caffeine can be dehydrating.
- Monitor weight loss. A sudden loss of 2 pounds or more signals dehydration in people over 60.
Learning about the benefits of staying hydrated, the risks of being dehydrated, and developing a strategy to keep your elderly loved one hydrated to prevent dehydration can be very important to overall health and even longevity.
If you need help monitoring hydration or other health risks in an elderly loved one living at home, Dakota Home Care is one of the few licensed home health care agencies in the community that provides both medical and non-medical in-home assistance, day or night, for any timeframe needed, whether it’s one hour, full-time care, or anywhere in between.
By Marti Lythgoe, Dakota Home Care Blogger