Seniors & Dehydration: Risk & Prevention

Older adults are at higher risk for dehydration, and that risk increases in the presence of dementia. Dehydration puts people at risk for heat injury, urinary and kidney complications, seizures, and low blood pressure. Milder, short-term complications include headache, fatigue, constipation, and cramps.

Proper hydration reduces health risks and improves quality of life, but simply handing someone a bottle of water is often not going to cut it. Combatting dehydration in older adults involves understanding the underlying causes and coming up with a creative, uncomplicated hydration strategy.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Kzenon
Photo: Adobe Stock/Kzenon

Why Older Adults Are At Greater Risk For Dehydration

The body’s sense of thirst decreases with age, as does total body water. A lower amount of body water means an older adult can become dehydrated more quickly. By the time thirst sets in, someone may already be dangerously dehydrated.

Medications like diuretics, antihistamines, laxatives, antipsychotics, and corticosteroids can stimulate urination and reduce hydration. People suffering with dementia may simply forget to drink or be unmotivated to do so, and those who struggle with incontinence may avoid drinking in an effort to avoid accidents. Finally, illnesses that cause fever, sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea can cause dehydration regardless of age.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Scott Griessel
Photo: Adobe Stock/Scott Griessel

Signs of Dehydration

It’s important to recognize the signs of dehydration rather than wait for the problem to become acute. Because sense of thirst may not trigger soon enough to prevent dehydration, watch out for:

  • Reduced urination or dark-colored urine (urine should be clear to pale yellow)
  • Dry skin
  • Changes in mood, dizziness, confusion
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Weak pulse
  • Cold hands and feet
Photo: Adobe Stock/nebari
Photo: Adobe Stock/nebari

Dehydration Prevention

When you’re trying to keep someone hydrated, especially when they may not be interested in drinking or eating, creativity is key. Think outside the water bottle with these strategies:

  • Add flavor. Water can be uninspiring. Try serving juice-and-water hybrids, milk, herbal tea, or flavored water.
  • Change the temperature. Something warm to drink during cold weather may be much more enticing than plain water, and an iced beverage can feel like more of a treat than room temperature drinks.
  • Create visual interest. Use a pretty cup or mug and garnish drinks with a piece of fruit. Try ergonomic cups that are easy to hold and place them around the house as a visual reminder to drink.
  • Aim for small sips throughout the day. This method is more effective and more achievable than guzzling a large amount all at once.
  • Avoid diuretics. Medications may be unavoidable, but decrease additional diuretic effects by limiting caffeine, alcohol, high-protein drinks.
  • Eat to hydrate. High water content foods provide both nutrition and hydration. Try these 20 hydrating foods. Healthy smoothies, broths, and even popsicles are great hydrating foods.
Photo: pixabay/silviarita
Photo: pixabay/silviarita

Setting hydration goals (such as a certain number of cups of water or even a certain color of urine) can help drinking feel like less of a drudgery and create a sense of accomplishment. Meeting short-term hydration goals will improve long-term health. So raise a glass, and drink up!

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