Dehydration in Elderly People: Risks, Warning Signs, and Prevention Tips
Are you aware of the risks and consequences of dehydration in seniors and how serious these risks are? Luckily, there is good news: dehydration can be easily avoided. Awareness is the first step in preventing any health issues related to dehydration-- the most common being the lack of fluids.
Unfortunately, most people aren't aware of just how problematic dehydration can be for senior adults and just how common it is.
These facts can help you understand how serious this affliction can be:
- According to a review article in e-SPEN, the European e-Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, a study found that around31% of long-term patients were dehydrated.
- It costs roughly $1.36 billion annually to treat the elderly community that has been hospitalized for dehydration. This information comes from the Nutrition and Healthy Aging article.
- Patients suffering from dehydration are six times more likely to pass in the hospital than those who are not dehydrated, as the Age and Ageing study said.
What Is Dehydration?
Dehydration is a simple concept: it happens when your body doesn't ingest enough water. Water is the source of life, and as exaggerated as that may sound… it is not. Water is necessary for many of your body's day to day functions, such as:
- Temperature regulation
- Waste elimination
- Joint lubrication
- Delivery of nutrients to cells
- Blood oxygen circulation
- Skin hydration
- Cognitive function
Dehydration occurs when your body doesn't receive enough water to sustain these day-to-day processes.
Thankfully, your body is designed to adjust its fluid levels throughout the day. The most common way is through thirst. As your body drops in fluid levels, your hypothalamus alerts your brain and creates the sensation of being thirsty. The following most common reaction is when your kidneys preserve water, which leads to urine becoming more concentrated.
Why Dehydration Is More Common Among Seniors
It can be a complex process to keep up with the amount of water and electrolytes for seniors compared to younger people. Older adults are more likely to become dehydrated, and the side effects of this are severe.
Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences shared that dehydration is one of the top 10 reasons seniors become hospitalized. Dehydrated adults hospitalized can then end up in more intensive care units, more likely to be readmitted, and more likely to be placed in long-term care facilities.
What is the link between age and dehydration?
Elderly adults are more likely to become dehydrated due to the several health or lifestyle conditions that they are experiencing that lead to low fluid levels. The most common factors are:
- Age-related physical changes: With age, our bodies cannot hold as much water-- this is most commonly because our kidneys become less efficient. Other risks come from seniors drinking less than younger adults because older adults have a weakened sense of thirst. There is no clear scientific reason for this, but it is genuinely a troublesome symptom of age. The reduced sense of thirst is most common for those that live with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia, as well as those who have suffered from a stroke. These elderly adults may have a hard time swallowing or asking caregivers for help.
- Medication side effects: There are many common medicines that older adults take that can act as diuretics (i.e., they can increase urine production) and lead to dehydration. All side effects of medication should be discussed with a doctor before taking.
- Incontinence issues: The risk of dehydration when associated with incontinence is directly caused by the fluid lost during involuntary urination. Dehydration happens when seniors begin to limit their fluid intake to avoid any uncomfortable situations. It is essential to let our loved ones know that reducing their fluid intake is not directly correlated to incontinence. The National Association for Continence shared that drinking more water can help fight off incontinence for some seniors. Staying hydrated also keeps your bladder from being vulnerable to bacterial infections-- reducing the risk of UTIs.
- Fear of falling: It is common for seniors to drink fewer fluids due to the fear of falling if they need to use the restroom in the middle of the night--these seniors are not considering that they are putting themselves at risk for dehydration when doing this. A way to avoid late-night restroom trips while also drinking fluids is to restrict fluid intake a few hours before bedtime. A healthcare provider can assist in figuring out if this works best for you.
- Living conditions: With Visiting Angels, elder adults can be cared for in the comfort of their own home. Visiting Angels caregivers can monitor your loved ones fluid intake.
- Medical issues: Most seniors suffer from medical conditions that have been shown to lead to dehydration. The most common examples of this are diarrhea, fever, and diabetes.
Signs of Dehydration in Elderly People
It is crucial to be aware of the signs and symptoms of dehydration to act quickly. The effects of dehydration can set in fast with seniors, so it is essential to be aware and know how to react.
Symptoms of dehydration are also progressive for older adults. The early signs to check for in an older adult are:
- Cracked lips
- Dry mouth
- Dry skin, particularly in the armpits
- Less frequent urination than normal
More severe effects of dehydration in the elderly are:
- Dark-colored urine (instead of what it should be: the color of a pale straw)
- Strong-smelling urine
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle cramps
- Crying without tears
It is essential to keep this one fact in mind: thoughts in their senior years don't always show clear signs of dehydration. Examples of this are:
- Some medicines can affect the color of urine
- Dehydration can cause hallucinations
- Cognitive changes can happen due to dementia or medications.
So how do you correctly spot and label dehydration? The best option is to drink water. After 10-15 minutes, you should see improvements. If things are terrible and water is not helping, go to the ER. If your senior is experiencing confusion, sleepiness, or unexplained irritability, you need to get to the ER as soon as possible. Never forget that getting prompt medical care is always the most reliable and trusted way to ensure your loved one is dehydrated. Medical professionals can test for dehydration through blood tests to check electrolyte levels and kidney functions. (Urine tests aren't always reliable for seniors.)
Treating Dehydration in Elderly: What to Do and When
If you see an elderly adult dehydrated, the first step should be getting them to drink a glass of water. If they are not better after 10-15 minutes, you should call 911 or drive to the ER.
At the ER, these patients usually start with an assessment to see the level of their condition. Mild cases require close monitoring and pushing of electrolyte-containing fluids. Moderate cases call for intravenous (IV) treatment. The more severe cases require more detailed and closer monitored interventions.
Treatment and time needed for recovery for seniors can all depend on the degree of the condition and the individual's overall health. Responding quickly can assist in the recovery time-- this is why it is crucial not to neglect the symptoms shown.
How to Prevent Dehydration in Elderly Adults
It is possible to avoid dehydration within the elderly community by following a few proactive strategies.
Seniors can stay hydrated by merely drinking water. Sadly, most seniors struggle to know how much water is enough. Most adults have heard that 8 cups of water a day is suggested. However, most doctors have backed away from this suggestion. Many factors influence the amount of water you should drink each day-- such as any medications you take, your body weight, and your activity level. The best way to gauge the amount of water your senior should be having is to ask their doctor.
Your loved one can also drink other beverages to help fight off dehydration. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that different drinks have shown to be more effective because they don't lead to much urine production. The study showed the best alternatives are: milk, orange juice, and commercially prepared electrolyte replacement drinks. When it comes to electrolyte drinks, remember to be mindful of sugar content. An easily accessible and suitable option is Pedialyte.
Consequences of Dehydration in Seniors
There are many common side effects of mild dehydration that people experience, regardless of age. Some of these common side effects are:
- Memory problems
- Poor concentration
There are long-term effects of dehydration; seniors can experience one or multiple of the following symptoms when they are chronically dehydrated:
- Low blood pressure
- Skin problems, including pressure sores
- Kidney problems, including kidney stones
- Increased risk of urinary tract infections
If dehydration is left untreated, it can cause death. Here are the most serves dangers of dehydration:
- Kidney failure
- Heat exhaustion or heat stroke
Schedule a Free Consultation
Our Visiting Angels’ care coordinators are available to discuss your loved one’s home care needs via a free care consultation.