Dehydration and Seniors

There are many factors which determine how much of our bodies are made up of water, such as gender, weight and percentage of body fat. But, in general, as we age, our bodies tend to hold less and less water. As a result, older individuals typically develop a more rapid onset of dehydration.

Older adults also have a muted perception of thirst, so they may not know they need to drink something until the early signs of dehydration start. Some seniors may have added difficulty getting water for themselves due to age-related physical impairments. Others may try to limit their liquid intake in an attempt to prevent frequent trips to the bathroom or urinary incontinence. All of these factors increase the danger of dehydration for seniors, so it is important to monitor your daily water intake, and be able to recognize the signs that you may need to start drinking more.

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration

The signs and symptoms of dehydration may worsen over time. Dehydration symptoms vary based on the age and background of an individual. The signs and symptoms of dehydration can be mild, severe, frequent or chronic.

Mild Dehydration

The most common signs and symptoms in the early stages of dehydration include:

  • A dry mouth
  • Thirst
  • Dry skin
  • Decreased urination
  • Headaches
  • Sleepiness or irritability
  • Cramping in the limbs
  • Weakness or general unwell feeling

Severe Dehydration

When mild dehydration becomes severe, the signs and symptoms can evolve into more serious conditions, including:

  • Lack of sweating
  • Severe muscle cramps or contractions
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Dry and sunken eyes with few or no tears
  • Unconsciousness or delirium
  • Wrinkled skin – with no elasticity
  • Rapid but weak pulse

Frequent or Chronic Dehydration

Frequent or chronic dehydration may cause serious complications, including:

  • Swelling in the brain
  • Seizures
  • Kidney failure
  • Coma or death

Hydration Tips for Seniors

Older individuals should drink plenty of water each day, increasing daily intake gradually if necessary, without waiting to experience thirst. Caregivers can encourage frequent drinking in moderate amounts by keeping water easily accessible at all times. Also, many fruits and vegetables contain water. Eating foods like cucumbers, tomatoes and watermelon can help keep you hydrated.

Avoiding alcohol and minimizing your sodium and caffeine intake can also help keep you hydrated.

According to one study, UCLA researcher Janet C. Mentes found that older individuals who stay hydrated may experience fewer falls – an added bonus. So, get drinking!