Dehydration and the Elderly

It can be tough keeping a close watch on an elderly loved one at all times, and as such, we might miss some signs of illness. Some signs of illness are crystal clear, and you can spot them from a mile away. However, there are others that are more subtle and much more difficult to notice. Some signs of illness may have such a gradual effect on living day-to-day that you may not notice them at first. Dehydration is one thing that can, at times, create small telltale signs (depending on the level of severity), but still have a big impact on the body—especially in the case of elderly people.

In the simplest terms, dehydration occurs when you don’t get enough water, or you’ve lost more fluids than you’ve been able to take in. Having adequate fluids allows our bodies to regulate temperature through things like sweating, maintaining blood pressure, and eliminating bodily waste. However, if the dehydration is bad enough, it can have some severe side effects like confusion, weakness, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, bedsores, or even death. For the most part, a human being cannot go more than four days without water.

Now, let’s look at some common causes of dehydration in seniors.

Causes of Senior Dehydration

  • Medications

It’s not unusual for an elderly person to be on multiple medications all at once. Some of them may be diuretic, while others may make them sweat more.

  • Decreased Thirst

The ability to sense thirst decreases as we get older. Also, frail elders might have more difficulty getting up to get a drink if they’re thirsty, or they might be reliant on caregivers who can’t tell they’re thirsty.

  • Decreased Kidney Function

We also lose kidney function as we get older, so that means kidneys are less able to conserve fluids.

  • Illness

Sicknesses like vomiting and diarrhea can very quickly contribute to elderly dehydration.

Next, we’ll look at some signs of dehydration.

Signs of Elderly Dehydration

Signs of dehydration in elderly persons may include any of the following:

  • 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

To help make sure the ones you love do not suffer from dehydration, please make sure they get enough liquids during the day and eat healthy water-content foods such as fruits, vegetables, or soups. You should also check that the color of urine is light and output is adequate (any dark urine or infrequent urination is a classic sign of dehydration).

A lot of times, seniors have to be educated to drink even if they aren’t thirsty. Having a water bottle on-hand next to the bed or near their favorite chair could help them to get enough fluids, especially if they have issues with mobility. If your loved one is living in a nursing home or other care facility, check to make sure the staff has a hydration program in place to help residents with drinking. For example, facilities should offer a multitude of beverages, and not just provide drinks during meals but also between meals as well. Please make sure the facility monitors the residents and assesses them if their physical or mental condition changes.

Like with any illness, prevention is key. It’s easier to ensure proper hydration now, than it is to treat them for dehydration later.