Aging and Dehydration

by | Jan 13, 2017 | Blog

Each day, our bodies lose about two to three quarts of water. However, many people aren’t getting the proper amount of water, and non-sugary drinks their bodies require, which can cause dehydration and several related health concerns. Older adults, particularly those with complex care needs managing multiple medications (e.g. diuretic) should stay mindful of drinking enough water each day. Adequate water intake allows the body to regulate temperature through sweating, maintain blood pressure and eliminate bodily waste. If severe enough, dehydration can lead to urinary tract infections, disorientation, imbalance and muscle weakness, chronic dry-mouth, pneumonia, bedsores and dry skin or even death.

Dehydration can be a subtle illness with significant implications. Our bodies lose kidney function with aging and are less able to conserve fluid. Illness related vomiting and/or diarrhea can quickly cause senior dehydration. The sense of thirst becomes less acute with aging. In addition, frail seniors or those with limited mobility may have a more difficult time getting around to get a drink when they’re thirsty, or they may rely on caregivers who can’t sense the need for fluids. Even though hydration levels vary from person to person, understanding physiological and psychological cues can reduce risks for dehydration.

Sodas, soft drinks, and even juices are not good substitutes for water. Consumption of sugary beverages has been linked to the development of type 2 diabetes. Artificial sweeteners, such as those used in diet sodas can encourage tooth decay, rapid but weak pulse, chronic liver disease and osteoporosis.

Common symptoms of dehydration are:

  • Dryness of mouth; dry tongue with thick saliva
  • Unable to urinate or pass only small amounts of urine; dark or deep yellow urine
  • Severe cramping and muscle contractions in limbs, back and stomach
  • Headaches
  • Crying but with few or no tears
  • Weakness, general feeling of being unwell
  • Low blood pressure
  • Convulsions
  • Wrinkled skin; no elasticity

Chronic Care Managers can help patients and their caregivers monitor the signs of dehydration. Seniors also need to be educated to drink even when they’re not thirsty. Care Managers can track body weight, dark urine or infrequent urination, heart function, sleepiness or irritability, and mental health cues to keep track of risks for dehydration. They can remind patients monthly to consume an adequate amount of fluids during the day and eat healthy, water-content foods such as fruit, vegetables, and soups. Staying hydrated lowers risk for complications associated with dehydration and can lead to better quality of life.

Written by Joseph F. West, ScD on Friday, 13 January 2017. Posted in Fluid Loss, Water, Dehydration, CCM

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