As people age, the body loses its ability to both conserve water and detect when it is in a state of dehydration. It also begins to lose its ability to compensate for shifts in air temperature and humidity. Physical inability to access fluids, and the reluctance to consume them for fear of incontinence issues, exacerbates the problem. The consequence of these challenges can be dire.
Symptoms of dehydration include:
- Dark urine
- Dry mouth
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of cognitive function
Symptoms of more severe dehydration in seniors include:
- Low blood pressure
- Imbalance in electrolytes, causing involuntary muscle contractions and loss of consciousness
- Urinary tract and kidney problems
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Black bloody stool
Even more serious consequences include the formation of kidney stones, kidney failure and hypovolemic shock, which occurs when low blood volumes result in a drop in blood pressure and a decrease in the amount of oxygen in the body.
Treatment for more severe forms of dehydration may require intravenous hydration over the course of a few hours or additional treatments to support the kidneys, including dialysis.
Dehydration is a serious condition because every cell, tissue, and organ in the human body needs water to eliminate waste, keep temperature normal, lubricate and cushion joints, and protect tissues.
What Amount of Fluids Should Seniors Consume?
The answer depends upon a number of conditions:
- Is the senior ill with an infection of the lungs or bladder?
- What is the size, weight, and sex of the senior?
- What medications is the senior taking?
- Is the senior sick with the flu or vomiting?
- How physically active is the senior?
- Is the current weather hot and humid?
- What are the other health concerns of the senior?
Given these variables, it is best for the senior to consult his or her physician or a registered dietitian concerning recommendations for water consumption.
It’s important to remember that by the time a senior actually feels thirsty, they may already be dehydrated, as their bodies become less sensitive to water intake.
There are many strategies for keeping a senior adequately hydrated:
Consider substitutes for water. These include milk and broth. Even fresh fruits and vegetables contain a high-water content. For example: watermelon, spinach, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, broccoli, cantaloupe, oranges, peaches, and strawberries, etc. have high-fluid content.
But water is still your best no-calorie, sugar-free source for hydration. Strategies could include scheduling times—before meals, while taking medications—for consuming additional water.
Experiment with different flavors, textures, and temperatures of fluids. Maybe your senior prefers hot drinks to cold or the other way around. You can warm up juices or add soda water to make drinks bubbly.
Make it savory. Hot soup broth (make it low-sodium to those watching their salt intake) may be appealing from time to time.
Make popsicles or smoothies. Mixtures of low-sugar fruit juices and water may be welcomed by your senior.
Encourage seniors to drink small quantities between meals even if they don’t feel thirsty. Keep drinks within easy reach in small bottles so the amount does not seem overwhelming.
Other fluid sources. Jell-O, soup, ice cream, yogurt.
Important note: Consult with the senior’s physician to make sure that certain fluid sources do not conflict with the senior’s medical conditions or medications. For example: seniors who take medications to treat insomnia, high blood pressure, or anxiety may want to avoid eating grapefruit because it can intensify the effects of a few medications and possibly make them dangerous to the senior.
Caffeine, Energy Drinks, and Alcohol
Some feel that tea and coffee are suitable beverages to consume, but caffeine is a diuretic, which causes the body to remove fluids from the bloodstream. Consult a physician or a registered dietitian if the senior is a heavy consumer of caffeinated beverages.
Energy drinks are often high in caffeine, sugar, and calories, and are not a good fluid option for senior adults.
Aside from its other negative effects on health, alcohol is also a diuretic, which causes the body to remove fluids from the blood at a much quicker rate than other liquids. If people do not drink additional water with alcohol, it can cause dehydration.
For other health tips this summer, please check out the Health and Wellness section of our news blog.