As we age, drinking enough fluids becomes vitally important. Fluids help our bodies function at their best, aiding in digestion, the absorption of nutrients, detoxification, and the transport of life-giving substances.
Seniors at Risk for Dehydration
Seniors are at risk for dehydration because, as we age, we experience decreased thirst sensation, and older kidneys can’t hold onto as much water, meaning that we drink less and go to the bathroom more. Caught in the middle, our bodies experience a general loss of body water.
Because seniors already have less water in their systems, even a small loss can have a greater impact.
Coupled with other chronic diseases and medications (e.g. diuretics and laxatives), we have an increased risk of dehydration.
7 Selfish Reasons to Hydrate
Dehydration causes significant health consequences, like:
- Impaired cognition & confusion
- Increase chance of falls
- Poor sugar control (important in diabetics)
- Lightheadedness when standing (orthostatic hypotension)
- Dry mouth
Signs of Dehydration: from Early Warning Signs to Severe Symptoms
The important goal here is to pay close attention to hydration status. Family and caregivers need to be mindful of fluid intake and the signs and symptoms of dehydration. Early signs can be subtle and often include headaches, muscle cramping, constipation, dry mouth and tongue and fatigue. If not addressed, dehydration can progress rapidly and become life-threatening. The following are often seen in severe dehydration:
- Confusion & agitation
- Weight loss
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased heart rate
- Little or no urination
- Electrolyte abnormalities (problems with sodium, potassium, and others that can lead to significant complications)
7 Tips to Prevent Dehydration
The best way to avoid dehydration and its consequences is prevention. With a little education and increased awareness, we can be well on our way to addressing this important issue. Below are some tips for encouraging more fluid consumption:
- Try to drink fluids regularly throughout the day
- Make sure liquids are readily available all day by placing small bottles or sippy cups close by
- Encourage consumption of fluids with medication
- Increase fluid intake at times of increased risk (summer months, long walk, exercise etc)
- Consume foods that have a high water content (cucumber, tomato, watermelon, bell peppers, grapes, oranges, and blueberries)
- Caution with coffee and tea which can worsen dehydration
- Avoid Alcohol
Encouraging and maintaining hydration doesn’t have to be boring, get creative! Water is the best fluid but certainly not the only one. Try flavored waters such as gatorade, powerade, or juices. Many companies make fizzy (carbonated flavored waters) too. Try smoothies blended with fruits and vegetables. Making these with water as the base and adding a little honey or stevia is delicious.
With a little knowledge and care, staying hydrated can keep us feeling our best. It can teach us some new things about our bodies and have us drinking our way to a better life.