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Dehydration in Seniors: Signs, Risks and How to Avoid it

Dehydration in Seniors: Signs, Risks and How to Avoid it

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dehydration in seniors


Thirst is something most of you probably give little thought to day to day. Basically, you drink when you are thirsty and forget about it! However, dehydration in seniors can have serious medical complications. It is estimated that up to 30% of hospitalized seniors are dehydrated. So, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of dehydration. 

Our guidelines will help you or your family members prevent dehydration. So read on! 

What Are the Signs and Consequences of Dehydration in Seniors?  

Severe dehydration can be devastating and it can be difficult for people to know the problem before it is too late! Let’s take a look at some signs of dehydration. Knowing how to recognize these symptoms and their potential consequences will help you do something about them before it is too late. Here are the signs and Consequences of dehydration in seniors: 

  1. Unexplained Fatigue: Feeling tired and lethargic can be a sign of dehydration
  • Consequences: Fatigue leads to a decline in normal activity which can increase weakness.  
  1. Dizziness: Dizziness is another sign what you might be dehydrated. 
  • Consequences: Can lead to falls which can cause broken bones or concussions 
  1. Increased Confusion: Dehydration leads to increased confusion and disorientation. 
  • Consequences: Confusion can lead to all sorts of problems, including falls, and problems with memory. People forget to take their medications, eat, or drink, exacerbating the problem. 
  1. Not urinating or dark pee: Irregular urination or dark pee is a warning sign of dehydration. 
  • Consequences: This can lead to urinary tract infections which can be serious for older adults, potentially causing a condition called delirium and leading to hospitalization. 
  1. Higher or lower than normal blood pressure: Reduced or elevated blood pressure can be an indicator of dehydration as well. 
  • Consequences: For older adults, this can cause a strain on the heart. For some older adults, dehydration leads to low blood pressure which can contribute to falls. 
  1. Constipation: Constipation can have many causes, but dehydration is a major contributor.  
  • Consequences: It can lead to health problems such as hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and diverticulitis. It can also be extremely uncomfortable and cause difficulties with mobility. 
dehydration in seniors

What Causes Dehydration in Seniors

Several factors contribute to symptoms of dehydration in older adults. Many of these factors are unique to the aging process. And, as people get older the consequences are more serious than for younger, healthier adults.

  1. The thirst mechanism changes with age. As you get older, your ability to know when you are thirsty decreases, making it very difficult to know when you need water.
  2. Aging causes a decrease in water percentage. What this means is that for someone older, they are already starting at a point where more hydration is needed.
  3. Memory problems complicate the situation. For someone with Alzheimer’s or some other dementia, remembering to drink can be a real challenge. This can have a cascading effect that can result in severe dehydration that can be life-threatening. 
  4. Going to the bathroom at night. Many older adults curb their fluid intake because they don’t want to get up during the night to go to the bathroom. 

What to Do About Dehydration in Seniors?

Now that you can recognize the dehydration symptoms, let’s look at some strategies for preventing dehydration from happening in the first place. 

  1. Don’t wait if you think a loved one is dehydrated 

If you think someone you know is exhibiting signs of dehydration, contact a health provider. If the situation is serious, IV fluids may be necessary. These can often be provided at home through home health. As telehealth becomes more available, healthcare providers can assess the situation avoiding the need to leave the home. 

  1. Educate your loved one 

If someone doesn’t know how important hydration is, then it is hard to take the situation seriously. Gently explain how important hydration is to daily functioning. Couch your discussion on the need for optimal health and well-being. Explain the consequences of dehydration in understandable terms.  

  1. Make drinking easy 

Encourage small amounts of drinking throughout the day, with an emphasis on starting early in the day. Have containers of water within reach throughout the living space. Avoid large containers that might be overwhelming. Check with your family member’s healthcare provider on the recommended amount of fluid intake per day. 

  1. Consider other sources of fluids 

This includes fruits, vegetables, yogurt, and other foods that have high water content. 

  1. Avoid diuretics 

Some fluids actually increase urination, contributing to the problem of dehydration. These include caffeine and alcohol. 

  1. Reminders 

If you are dealing with a family member who has dementia, this can be a real challenge. You can instruct the care providers to give reminders throughout the day. If not, then consider voice-activated systems like Reminder Rosie or some other system that automatically reminds your loved one to take a drink.  

  1. Discourage drinking during the evening 

Try to encourage maximum fluid intake earlier in the day. Drinking at night increases the need to urinate. Why is this a problem? Getting up during the night to go to the bathroom increases fall risk. 

  1. Repetition works 

Good habits are formed through repeated efforts. In time, your loved one will make hydration a normal part of their everyday routine.  

Why Hydration Is Important?

Water is necessary for just about every bodily function. After all, our bodies are 60% water. As you think about the importance of hydration, and avoiding dehydration, consider how hydration affects these important functions.

  • Water helps with cardiovascular function. Dehydration puts a strain on the heart. Water is necessary for blood volume. What this means is that dehydration lowers your blood volume making your heart work harder to get oxygen to your cells. This makes it harder to walk stairs, exercise or even do normal activities.
  • Water helps to lubricate muscles and joints. With enough water, your muscles can eliminate waste helping your muscles and joints function more efficiently.
  • Water helps your kidneys to work properly. It helps the kidney filter waste from your blood and excrete it in your urine.
  • Water helps regulate body temperature. Water helps keep your body cool during heat generated by exercise or warm temperatures outside.
  • Staying hydrated helps your brain. Even mild dehydration can affect mood, memory, and brain function. Staying hydrated helps your brain operate at its best.

Seniors Can Definitely Avoid Dehydration 

Dehydration becomes a greater risk as we age, but it is preventable. Drinking plenty of fluids, eating foods with high water content, setting up reminders, and educating your elderly loved ones about the signs and symptoms are some of the techniques to prevent dehydration in seniors. 

Follow our tips and help your loved one stay as healthy as possible. And if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here to help! Find other helpful articles and resources at BoomersHub

Frequently Asked Questions 

Why do seniors get dehydrated? 

In addition to age-related changes in their body, older adults also typically have lower volumes of water compared to younger people. Other reasons include medications, and certain illnesses such as diabetes, lung disease, or UTIs. 

Can dehydration cause confusion in seniors? 

When someone is dehydrated, their body doesn’t have enough water to function properly. This can lead to a number of problems, including confusion. 

Why are seniors at a high risk for dehydration? 

Seniors are at a high risk for dehydration because they often have a decreased sense of thirst, they often take medications that can cause dehydration, and they are more likely to have health conditions that predispose them to dehydration. 

What is an early sign of dehydration in the elderly? 

An early sign of dehydration in the elderly is a decrease in urine output. If you notice that your loved one is not urinating as much as usual, or if their urine is darker than normal, it may be a sign that they are becoming dehydrated. 

Can dehydration cause hallucinations in the elderly? 

Severe or prolonged dehydration can cause hallucinations in the elderly. It is also called Delirium, which can cause confusion and behavioral changes. 

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