Dehydration in Seniors

April 29, 2019
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in and the body does not have enough water and electrolytes to carry out its normal function. Dehydration is a dangerous health condition at any age, but it is particularly problematic in the elderly. Unfortunately, elderly people have the highest risk of dehydration.

Studies of seniors admitted into hospitals found 6.7% were diagnosed with dehydration. By itself, this may not seem overly concerning, but additional studies found that nearly half of the elderly patients who were dehydrated died.

Caregivers who are not aware of how easily our elders can become dehydrated may miss signs and symptoms of it. Even patients themselves may not be familiar with dehydration and believe since they’re not thirsty, they can’t be dehydrated.

If you’re a caregiver for an elderly loved one, read on to learn the cause of dehydration, warning signs, treatment, and prevention.

What Causes Dehydration in Seniors?

Total body water decreases with age, putting seniors at a greater risk of dehydration. It doesn’t take much to go from being hydrated to dehydrated.

Elderly people also face challenges when it comes to staying hydrated because of factors that interfere. These factors include:

  • Prescription medications
  • Chronic diseases
  • Muscular and neurological conditions
  • Mental illness

That’s why it’s crucial for caregivers to know how to spot the warning signs of dehydration.

Warning Signs of Dehydration

Proper hydration is important for health. Water helps the body to function as it should by flushing away toxins and keeping cells and joints lubricated. Thirst is not always a reliable indicator of the body’s need for water. Older adults do not feel thirsty until they are already dehydrated.

Family caregivers need to be familiar with signs of dehydration in the elderly. The symptoms and warning signs of dehydration in seniors can be more subtle than in younger adults, so be alert and watchful when caring for an aging loved one.

Below are common signs of dehydration in seniors:

Complain of thirst: If your loved one is more thirsty than usual, it can be one of the first signs of dehydration.

Dry lips or mouth: If lips look dry and their mouth feels dry, they need to drink.

Changes in mood: When seniors become dehydrated, it can affect their mood and they can become irritated or withdrawn. It can also cause them to be more tired than usual even after resting.

Constipation: Seniors that are dehydrated may get constipated and may not be able to void as often as they should due to inadequate water levels in the body and intestines. Urine will be a dark yellow instead of light, indicating the body is not getting enough fluid.

Less skin elasticity: Elasticity in the skin, known as turgor, is a good indicator of whether or not someone is dehydrated. When the skin on the back of the hand is pulled, it should spring back within a second. If the skin stays puckered and wrinkled, then dehydration is in effect.

Dizziness and headaches: When an elderly person’s body is desperate for fluids, they can experience headaches and dizziness. This is especially dangerous because they are at a higher risk for slip and fall accidents.

Disorientation: Is your loved one feeling dizzy or unsteady on their feet? It’s common for people in the later stages of dehydration to experience confusion and disorientation. It can be especially hard to distinguish disorientation caused by dehydration if the person is in the early stages of dementia.

Losing weight: When seniors are dehydrated, they can lose a couple of pounds of weight. While it’s not unusual for weight to fluctuate, it is a symptom of dehydration that may help caregivers figure out what’s happening.

Low blood pressure: When dehydration is significant, it’s common to have low blood pressure as a result. While family caregivers may not be able to assess blood pressure, they can inquire during routine health care checkups and take note of the results. Chronic dehydration can lead to long-term illnesses and significant medical issues, such as kidney stones, severe constipation, stroke/aneurysm, and infection.

Dehydration Signs & Symptoms in Seniors

Mild Dehydration Signs & Symptoms

Your loved one might notice they’re thirsty, but more often than not, they won’t. Other mild signs and symptoms of dehydration in seniors include:

Moderate Dehydration Signs & Symptoms

If your loved one is more dehydrated, they’re likely to experience a worsening of symptoms that occur during mild dehydration as well as:

  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Loss of consciousness or fainting

Moderate dehydration can quickly become severe, so if you suspect your loved one is dehydrated, it’s important to seek medical help right away.

Dehydration Treatment

There are several steps caregivers can take to treat dehydration. In the short term, for mild dehydration, seniors can drink water or sports drinks to quickly bring their body fluids up to par. They should also be encouraged to drink throughout the day, even if they don’t feel thirsty. Fruit, smoothies, and milk can help keep them hydrated.

If your loved one is more than mildly dehydrated, though, they’re going to need more help. Contact their doctor right away or take them to the hospital for evaluation and treatment.

Dehydration Prevention

The good news is that dehydration in seniors is preventable. The best way to deal with dehydration is to do what you can to avoid it.

Making sure your loved one gets the right amount of fluid may seem complicated, but it is easier than you think.

Here are some easy ways to keep your loved one properly hydrated:

Bring everyone together. Make sure family members, home care assistants, and the patient themselves are all on the same page aiming for proper hydration. Learning about the negative effects of dehydration in seniors should be enough to motivate everyone to stick to the plan and create good hydration habits.

Encourage frequent drinks. Seniors should be reminded to drink water during the day, even if they’re not thirsty. An aging body may not feel thirst until it is more acute, so drinking regularly despite not feeling thirsty is a fine way to stay hydrated. Caregivers, home care assistants, and family members can remind seniors throughout the day to drink.

Slow and steady. It’s not necessary or advisable to drink all of their water for the day first thing in the morning and it’s not a good idea to drink it all right before bed, either. The better plan is to sip on water throughout the day to have a consistent influx of water. Again, using a water bottle can help to pace drinking at a good rate.

Drink a full glass of water with medications. When your loved one is taking medications, especially if there are quite a few of them, it’s a good idea to take them with a full 8-ounce glass of water. This helps to make sure none of the medications stick in their throat and they have water in their system to process the medications.

Check the color of their urine. Check the color of their urine. If it is light yellow, they are getting adequate fluids. If the urine is darker or they are going less frequently, it’s time to boost the liquid intake.

Minimize alcohol and caffeine. Because drinks like coffee, caffeinated soda, and alcohol are diuretics, they encourage urination and therefore deplete the body of valuable fluids. To stay hydrated, avoid drinks like these or at least drink them in moderation accompanied with plenty of water.

Increase fluids when sick. With diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, and general illnesses, the body loses fluids much more rapidly than when it is well. If your loved one is ill, even with a common cold, they need to increase their water intake. Sports drinks with electrolytes are especially good for seniors when they are sick.

Exercise and water. If exercising regularly, increase water intake. Drinking plenty of fluids such as water and herbal tea can be helpful. Talk with their doctor to see what their water intake should be and how much to increase it during exercise. Work with home care providers to track water intake. Using a water bottle can help with this because you can keep track of how many times it’s been filled so you’ll know how much water has been drunk and how much more they should drink.

Encouraging a Senior Who Does Not Like Water to Stay Hydrated

What happens if your loved one doesn’t enjoy drinking water and resists drinking it? Being creative can help with this challenge and ensure they get the hydration they need.

Try these tips to encourage a senior who does not like water to stay hydrated.

Eat juicy fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables high in water content, such as watermelon, pineapple, grapes, celery, strawberries, plums, berries, cucumbers, and oranges, or other citrus fruits are excellent sources of hydration. Smoothies and slushies are great to provide nutrition and fluids as well. Other options include vegetable soups for lunch or snacks or even broth soups. Each of these gives your loved one flavors they can enjoy while providing valuable hydration to their body as well as fiber and vitamins.

Add fruit to the water. Try making water more interesting by adding sliced fruit. Cut up berries, cherries, citrus, or even vegetables such as cucumbers and put them in a pitcher of water. Put this pitcher in the refrigerator and allow it to steep for a couple of hours. The fruit will imbue the water with a light flavor that may make it more palatable. If you serve it with some of the fruit that’s in it, they’ll also get the added benefit of eating the fruit.

Flavor powders. If fruit is not enough to enhance the flavor, try flavor powders or drops. There are many of these products readily available on the market and they offer a variety of flavors. There are even some that are all-natural. This will give the water a boost that may entice them to drink more.

Decaffeinated beverages. The primary reason beverages such as coffee and tea are often excluded when it comes to fluid counts for the day is that they contain caffeine, which dehydrates the body. If your loved one chooses decaffeinated versions of these beverages, however, they can enjoy the flavor without the dehydrating effect. Avoid soda as the carbonation can be detrimental to the health of bones and teeth.

Talk to their doctor about specific tactics to help them remain properly hydrated.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care Services

Starting a senior care arrangement for your loved one is a fantastic way to help them stick to the nutritional guidelines in order to stay healthy and strong.

A senior home care services provider will evaluate your loved one’s specific needs as well as their likes and dislikes to create an approach that is tailored to them.

This can mean going to the grocery store with them to help select foods that fit within the guidelines and recommendations set forth by their doctor, preparing meals and snacks with them, or even just enjoying these meals and snacks alongside them to offer companionship and encouragement.

If you or an aging loved one are considering home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today (888) 592-5855.