Summer may be behind us, but strangely enough, that doesn’t mean that all its dangers have passed. Take dehydration, for example. It’s a dangerous condition for anyone, but senior dehydration can be deadly. Knowing the signs of dehydration in an aging adult and how to address it can make all the difference. Read on to learn more.
Why Senior Dehydration Is Dangerous
Dehydration is especially dangerous to older adults because of the illness and chronic conditions they often face. It is difficult for an aging body to combat diseases such as diabetes and infections under any circumstances. To do so without enough hydration almost always ends badly, since water is necessary for nearly every bodily function. In addition, poor hydration can delay recovery from traumatic events such as heart attacks or make it difficult for wounds (such as bedsores) to heal.[1. “Prevention of pressure sores,” July, 2009 https://www.msfocus.org/article-details.aspx?articleID=53]
Reasons for Senior Dehydration
There are a number of reasons that older adults may not get adequate water intake.[2. “14 Surprising Causes of Dehydration,” May 27, 2014, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/27/surprising-dehydration-causes_n_5373162.html] One, they may be less sensitive to thirst. Even a decreased appetite can result in dehydration, as we get much of our water from the foods that we eat. Also, as we grow older, our kidneys become less efficient, so we lose more water when we urinate. Finally, medications your loved one is taking may be contributing to their dehydration. Various prescriptions can cause side effects such as excessive sweating, diarrhea, and increased urination, all shunting much-needed water from your loved one’s body.
The Signs of Dehydration
The signs of dehydration in your loved one may be subtle at first. They can be as simple as increased thirst, dry mouth, dry skin, and a decrease in urination frequency and amount. However, over time the signs can grow more serious. Your loved one may appear forgetful, confused, and lethargic. They may not sweat, even if conditions are very warm. They can experience dangerously low blood pressure and even fall unconscious.
How to Help Avoid Senior Dehydration
Needless to say, you want to make sure that your loved is adequately hydrated at all times. Fortunately, there are many simple ways to do this. Try the following:
- Sip water throughout the day. Keep a bottle or glass of water by your loved one’s bedside, chair, or wherever else they are during the day. Encourage them to sip from it often.
- Rev up the flavor. Drinking plain old water can be boring after a while. Increase the fun factor by adding store-bought flavors to the water (but check with your loved one’s doctor first, in case these flavors have sugar or additives that could harm them). If you want homemade flavors, simply add a squeeze of lemon, lime, or a splash of juice. And of course, the best flavored water of all is tea! But watch out for the caffeine content, which can actually reduce hydration. Herbal tea without too much sugar is best. Fortunately, it comes in an array of flavors.
- Eat the right foods. Remember how we mentioned that adequate hydration often occurs through food? Well, see that your loved one is getting enough food with high water content. Fruit and vegetables are especially good for this. Some of the best thirst-quenchers include apples, oranges, pineapple, cantaloupe, grapefruit, watermelon, cucumber, celery, zucchini, and tomatoes.
Be Vigilant About Senior Care
Senior dehydration is a serious matter, but one you may rarely think about. Since it can come on slowly and imperceptibly, it pays to be vigilant about the amount of water your loved one is getting. Make monitoring their intake part of your regular routine, both at meal times and in-between. If you can’t always be there to do this for your loved one, consider hiring a home health aide to fill the gaps. While you’re at it, why not pour yourself a tall glass of water? Hydration is important for you as well, and as a caregiver you’ve certainly earned it!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.