The risk of dehydration increases as we age. With necessary body functions already beginning to decline, it's crucial for seniors to combat dehydration with frequent fluid intake throughout the day. Especially with studies showing that dehydration can negatively impact longevity in the elderly, fluid intake is a fundamental component of a healthy diet for seniors. With some people beginning to experience reduced physical and cognitive ability after losing just 2% to 3% of body fluid, it's crucial for older adults to hydrate long before they feel thirsty.
In this article, we'll review the causes, risks, and signs of dehydration in seniors. With this information, family members and caregivers may work to prevent and address dehydration before it becomes severe.
There are multiple key reasons behind increasing risk for dehydration with older age, namely:
Insufficient hydration in older adults is associated with higher mortality rates. Research into hospitalized patients suffering a stroke showed that patients who were dehydrated had a significantly higher chance than hydrated patients of needing dependent care after discharge or dying in the hospital.
Dehydrated seniors may begin to experience dizziness, fainting, quickened heart rate, confusion, and delirium, as well as fall more frequently than usual, which may lead to injury. Additionally, they may incur infections and fracture bones more easily. Severe symptoms of dehydration in the elderly include seizures and even death.
Simply put, dehydration leads to health complications, some of which could require hospitalization.
Dehydration in seniors can be a difficult problem to spot for caregivers. These signs can be checked for regularly to catch dehydration before it becomes severe:
Caregivers may check if a senior is dehydrated by testing skin turgor. Pull up a small section of skin on the back of the senior's hand. The skin will return back to its original state almost instantly in a hydrated person. If it doesn't, the older adult has become dehydrated.
Another way for caregivers to monitor hydration in seniors is to keep an eye on urine color. The urine of a healthy, hydrated older adult will be light in color. Dark urine is a proven sign of dehydration, as is infrequent urination.
You may have heard that eight glasses of water per day is the blanket recommendation for everyone. While eight glasses of water daily may certainly be the perfect amount to keep certain people healthy, one has to consider the fact that with varying bodies, diets, and lifestyles, ideal daily water intake will change from person to person. This is especially true among the elderly, who may have extra health considerations that factor into the right volume of water to consume.
One great strategy for measuring hydration is to consider bodyweight. Seniors should weigh themselves each morning. If they've lost two or more pounds from the day before and are experiencing headaches or thirst, they've most likely become dehydrated.
Drinking more fluids is a straightforward lifestyle habit to adopt. But, it can have far-reaching benefits for the health of seniors. From maintaining healthy body function to reducing the risk for hospitalization, simply drinking enough water is a crucial part of healthy aging.
"Dehydration in the Elderly." British Nutrition Foundation, British Nutrition Foundation, www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/life/dehydrationelderly.html.
"Elderly Dehydration." A Place for Mom, A Place for Mom, Jan. 2018, www.aplaceformom.com/planning-and-advice/articles/elderly-dehydration.
Leeflang, Jennifer. "Hydration Tips for Seniors." AgingCare.com, AgingCare.com, 12 June 2017, www.agingcare.com/articles/hydration-tips-for-seniors-205594.htm.
Picetti, Dominic et al. "Hydration health literacy in the elderly." Nutrition and healthy aging vol. 4,3 227-237. 7 Dec. 2017, doi:10.3233/NHA-170026