Dehydration: A Very Real Danger for the Elderly

waterIt’s important for seniors to be aware of ways to prevent dehydration, recognize its signs, and treat it promptly.   The physical changes associated with aging expose older adults in particular to risks of dehydration. The danger is that they may not know about their dehydration, which could lead to more serious consequences.

Causes & Health Risks

Dehydration is often due partly to inadequate water intake, but can happen for many other reasons as well, including as a side effect of prescribed medication like diuretics, diarrhea, excessive sweating, loss of blood and diseases such as diabetes. Aging itself makes people less aware of thirst and also gradually lowers the body’s ability to regulate its fluid balance.

Elders may not feel thirst as keenly.

Scientists warn that the ability to be aware of and respond to thirst is slowly diminished as we age. As a result, older people do not feel thirst as readily as younger people do. This increases the chances of them consuming less water and consequently suffering dehydration.  During the summer months in Florida this becomes even more of an issue.

Less body fluids, lower kidney function.

The body loses water as we age. Until about age 40, the proportion of total body fluids to body weight is about 60% in men and 52% in women (the gender difference is due to greater muscle mass and lower body fat in men compared to women; muscle cells contain more water than fat cells). After age 60, the proportion goes down to 52% in men and 46% in women. The reason for the decline is the loss of muscle mass as one ages and a corresponding increase in fat cells.

In addition, the kidney’s ability to remove toxins from the blood progressively declines with age. This means the kidneys are not as efficient in concentrating urine in less water, thus older people lose more water than younger ones.

If dehydration is not identified and treated, the consequences to health are significant, including reduced or even loss of consciousness, rapid but weak pulse, and lowered blood pressure. If rehydration is not started, the situation can become life-threatening.

Recognize The Symptoms

Mild dehydration:

  • Dryness of mouth; dry tongue with thick saliva
  • Unable to urinate or pass only small amounts of urine; dark or deep yellow urine
  • Cramping in limbs
  • Headaches
  • Crying but with few or no tears
  • Weakness, general feeling of being unwell
  • Sleepiness or irritability

More serious dehydration:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Convulsions
  • Severe cramping and muscle contractions in limbs, back and stomach
  • Bloated stomach
  • Rapid but weak pulse
  • Dry and sunken eyes with few or no tears
  • Wrinkled skin; no elasticity
  • Breathing faster than normal

Staying Hydrated

Everyone knows—but many people seem to forget—that water is what sustains life. Here are just two of the benefits of being hydrated:

  • Older people who get enough water tend to suffer less constipation, use less laxatives, have fewer falls and, for men, may have a lower risk of bladder cancer. Less constipation may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Drinking at least five 8-ounce glasses of water daily reduces the risk of fatal coronary heart disease among older adults.

Drink water frequently in moderate amounts.  If you are thirsty, that is already a sign of early dehydration.  A good formula for how much water is needed every day is to take one-third of the person’s body weight in pounds and drink the equivalent number of ounces of water daily. For example, a 150-pound woman would need 50 ounces of water daily, or about 6 8-ounce glasses of water.

Other Tips to Consider:

  • If your current intake is below the required amount, increase the amount you drink gradually.
  • One sign of proper hydration is the color of the urine—it should be clear or a pale yellow.
  • Avoid alcohol and minimize caffeine.   Due to its diuretic effect caffeine can cause the kidneys to excrete more water.
  • When you see early signs of dehydration, have a sports drink to enable quick replenishment of water and electrolytes your body needs.
  • Severe dehydration requires medical attention; if you see any signs or even just suspect it, call the doctor.

 

This is a message from MorseLife Home Care.  For more information, call (561) 616-0707 or link to www.morselife.org.

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