Everyone knows staying hydrated is important. What many don’t realize is that dehydration can happen very quickly and seniors are especially susceptible to the condition. Not only that, seniors have side-effects that are more dramatic than those in a younger person, including behaviors that mimic dementia. Keeping the elderly population hydrated is one of the simplest things you can do when it comes to supporting their health.
Dehydration Is a Serious Problem For Seniors
There are several reasons why dehydration occurs more quickly in seniors. For one thing, “thirst receptors” become less acute, which means a senior won’t feel thirsty the same way a younger person would. The older we get, the less our bodies are able to retain water or to regulate body temperature. Plus, many of seniors are on medications that have a diuretic effect, which causes their body’s to lose even more water. Thus, maintaining regular water and fluid intake is very important – especially when the weather warms up.
A dehydrated senior is more prone to slips and falls due to dizziness and lack of balance and can also begin to display memory lapses or confusion. This mental confusion can seem like the signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s but is, in fact, simply a lack of water. By knowing the signs and symptoms of dehydration, you can help senior loved ones get the necessary amount of fluids he or she needs to remain balanced, healthy and cool.
Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration
The first signs of dehydration include:
- A dry mouth
- Feelings of thirst
- Dry skin
- Infrequent or decreased urination
- Dark yellow or brown urine
As dehydration becomes more severe, the symptoms will progress to:
- Extremely dry mouth, mucous membranes and skin (if you gently pinch skin on the top of the hands, it will remain slightly folded rather than immediately returning to normal)
- Brown urine or no urine
- Sunken eyes
- Rapid breathing or heartbeat
- Delirium or loss of consciousness
At the first signs of dehydration, simply administering water or other low-sugar fluids should be enough to reverse the condition. If the symptoms have already moved into the severe category, begin administering fluids and call a healthcare professional to see if more direct medical attention is required.
Tips for Keeping Seniors Hydrated
There are things you can do to keep seniors hydrated around the clock. This is especially important during the summer months. In addition to being hotter, air conditioning creates a dryer environment and dehydration will compound the difficulties an elderly body has regulating its core temperature.
Add a straw. Simply adding a straw to glasses of water, juice or iced tea will encourage a senior to drink more, especially bed-bound seniors who may have a harder time sipping from the edge of a cup when their body is at an elevated angle.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Plants contain lots of water so eating fruits and vegetables will also increase a senior’s overall water intake. Plus, they contribute to a healthy senior diet.
Minimize caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic, which causes the body to evacuate more water. For this reason, try to make the switch to decaffeinated coffee and tea if possible, or at least minimize the amount of total caffeine that is consumed.
Keep beverages handy. Keep water bottles or favorite beverages by the bed, on side tables, on the kitchen counter and other places where seniors will remember to take a sip or two, even if they aren’t feeling thirsty.
As with many health-related tenets, prevention is the key. Keeping hydrated is always easier than treating dehydration.