Dehydration increases the risk of constipation, kidney problems and even falling in the elderly. It’s a common problem year-round, but in the high heat of summer, the risk is even higher than usual.
What Causes Dehydration?
Dehydration occurs when a body loses more fluid than it takes in. Sometimes people aren’t in the habit of drinking well, or they may take medications – or have medical conditions – that cause excessive urination. When a heat wave or illness hits, the situation can quickly turn into a medical emergency.
Hot weather can cause fluid loss through sweating.
Fever, vomiting and diarrhea are common causes of rapid fluid loss and dehydration.
Seniors are at Greater Risk for Dehydration
Adults are at a greater risk for dehydration as they age due to a number of reasons.
Less Fluid to Begin With
There is less fluid overall in older bodies, which means that it doesn’t take as long to dry out.
Reduced Sense of Thirst
Older adults have less of a sense of thirst. Seniors don’t usually even feel thirsty until they are already partially dehydrated.
Decrease in Kidney Function
Older kidneys don’t work as well, and seniors often lose more fluids through urination than they did when they were younger. This can be even more pronounced in individuals with diabetes or kidney disease.
Health Conditions and Medications
Various health conditions and medications common to older adults can contribute to dehydration. For example, certain blood pressure medications and diuretics for swollen legs can cause the body to put out quite a lot of fluid through urination.
Many seniors have a harder time getting around, which can make it difficult for them to get up to get a drink, even if they want to do so.
Seniors who have memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease, or other forms of dementia, may forget to drink, putting them at greater risk for dehydration.
Symptoms of Dehydration
Increase fluid intake right away if these common early symptoms of dehydration are noted:
- Dry mouth
- Dark-colored urine
- Reduced amount of urination
- Muscle cramps
If you notice these signs that dehydration is severe, you should seek immediate medical attention.
- Rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty walking or moving
- Complications of Dehydration
When dehydration is untreated, it can lead to severe health problems, including:
- Urinary tract infections
- Kidney stones
- Kidney failure
- Heat stroke
- Hypovolemic shock, a life-threatening medical emergency
What to do About Dehydration
For mild dehydration, water, juices and broth can be good choices to replenish lost fluids.
In the case that many fluids are lost through vomiting or diarrhea, electrolyte drinks, such as sports drinks or Pedialyte can help replenish lost electrolytes.
For severe dehydration, hospitalization is necessary for IV fluids.
It’s always best to prevent dehydration whenever possible! That means keeping up on drinking.
How Home Care Can Help
When a senior has difficulty taking in enough fluids due to mobility or memory challenges, they are at a heightened risk for dehydration. Happily, home care services can do a lot to help encourage or remind seniors to drink.
Home care aides can:
- Offer and encourage sips throughout the day (or visit)
- Ensure drinks are set up for the senior’s convenience.
- Prepare tantalizing drinks, like herbal teas and fruit-infused waters
- Prepare, encourage and assist with eating fluid-rich foods, like soups, Jello and fruit salads
- Pick up drinks and fluid-rich foods from the grocery store, ensuring they’re always available in the senior’s home
Symptoms of Dehydration in Elderly: Signs, Prevention, Treatment