Dehydration is an elder care problem. In multiple studies of senior patients in long-term care facilities and those admitted to hospitals, as many as 40% of seniors were dehydrated. When left to their own devices, most seniors simply don’t drink enough water to remain properly hydrated, and this causes serious physical, mental and emotional side effects.
Understanding how dehydration affects the body as well as dehydration symptoms will improve a senior’s overall well-being.
Hydration is The Foundation of a Balanced and Healthy Body
Our bodies are predominantly comprised of water; it is responsible for balancing the body’s fluid levels, facilitating circulation, digestion, transportation and absorption of nutrients, etc. Water is also required for eliminating toxins, kidney health, energizing muscles and maintaining normal bowel function. A breakdown in any of these processes causes medical complications.
Before age 60, the average person is about 56% water, after age 60 this percentage decreases to around 49% due to lost muscle mass. That reduction means seniors are even more prone to the effects of dehydration and the symptoms can be more serious.
Causes and Symptoms of Senior Dehydration
Dehydration occurs for a variety of reasons:
- Not drinking enough water or liquids
- As a side effect of certain medications, especially diuretics
- Excessive sweating
- Certain medical conditions such as diabetes
Symptoms of dehydration comes in many forms. The following are some of the most common:
The first symptoms of dehydration are easy to miss.
- Dryness of the mouth
- Thick saliva
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dark colored urine, typically dark yellow, orange or even brown
- Difficulty urinating
- Headaches or mental fogginess
- Cramping, especially in feet and legs
- Fatigue, weakness or general malaise
- Crying without tears or very few tears
- Unusual sleepiness or irritability
Symptoms of more severe dehydration
By the time dehydration progresses from mild to severe, the senior will need immediate medical attention so s/he can be placed on intravenous fluids until stabilized. Signs of severe dehydration include:
- Severe cramping in limbs, back and stomach
- Low blood pressure
- Weak and rapid pulse
- Eyes appear dry and/or sunken
- Little to no skin elasticity (if you gently pinch the skin on the back of the hands, it will remain in the pinched position and/or will retract very slowly)
- Rapid breathing
If you notice any of these signs in a senior, call 911 or take them to the nearest urgent care facility immediately.
Simple Tips For Keeping Seniors Hydrated
While water is the best fluid of all, it’s not the only option for hydration. Here are some simple tips that can keep a senior better hydrated:
- Have a beverage (non-caffeinated is best) with every meal or snack
- Keep fresh water in a glass with a straw near the bed and chair-side tables at all times
- Eat an array of fruits and vegetables, which have naturally high water content
- Maintain an assortment of favorite beverages on hand to keep it interesting
- Try adding lemon, cucumber or strawberry slices to cold water to make it more palatable.
Adequate hydration is not just a warm weather issue. Focus on hydration year-round for optimal senior health.