Because more than 60 percent of the human body is made up of water, staying hydrated is important to keep our bodies functioning properly.
As adults, we lose more than 80 ounces of water daily just through normal activity. Elderly adults are among the most at risk groups for dehydration, one of the most frequent causes of hospitalization after age 65. Because of the potentially serious consequences of this condition to seniors, as a caregiver it’s important to recognize the causes and symptoms of dehydration as well as how you can help your loved one stay properly hydrated.
As a natural part of the aging process, our bodies undergo physiological changes that increase our risk of becoming dehydrated. With advancing years, seniors can lose their sense of thirst and tend not to drink enough. Age slows down our metabolic rate, and we need fewer calories. We are not generally as physically active as we once were, either. Our appetites decrease, we eat less food and as a result get less fluids from solid food sources, too, problematic for the elderly since almost everyone gets about half their daily water requirement from solid foods and fruit and vegetable juices.
In addition, our fluid balance can be affected by medication, emotional stress, exercise, general health and the weather. Many seniors have chronic health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease and may take medications that can make them more susceptible to dehydration. Our aging bodies also lose some natural ability to regulate temperature, making seniors more susceptible to temperature changes in the environment.
Dehydration is caused by loss of salts and water in our bodies due to severe sweating, extreme heat, vomiting, diarrhea and certain medications. Signs and symptoms of dehydration, like those of many other treatable health conditions, can be virtually identical to senile dementia and Alzheimer’s symptoms. The most common signs and symptoms of dehydration include persistent fatigue, lethargy, muscle weakness or cramps, headaches, dizziness, nausea, forgetfulness, confusion, deep rapid breathing or an increased heart rate.
The most important way to prevent dehydration in elderly adults is to make sure they are drinking enough liquid. Seniors and all adults should drink at least 64 ounces of fluids such as water or non-caffeinated beverages daily. Water can also be found in many fruits and vegetables, so including them as part of a nutritionally sound daily diet will help with staying hydrated as well.
Keep water readily available, especially if you are caring for a senior citizen with mobility problems. If the taste of water is bothersome, try using powdered drink mixes that flavor the water, but do not add any excess sugar.
Information provided by Clint Rogers, Comfort Keepers, 1300 Metro East Drive, Suite 128, Pleasant Hill, 515-243-0011.