You’ve probably heard the claim that drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day is important to health. While no scientific evidence backs this directive, drinking fluids throughout the day is important to keep our bodies hydrated and running optimally. This fact especially holds true for seniors who may need increased amounts of fluid to remain hydrated. Aging adults often need reminders and encouragement to drink enough water to avoid dehydration that leads to medical risks.
How Much Water is Enough?
We all need different amounts of water to sustain hydration. Body weight, activity level and even weather are major factors in determining the amount of water an individual needs on a daily basis. A person should consume at least one cup of water for every 20 pounds of weight. If living in a warm climate, seniors might perspire and need more water. Exercise also increases the need for water as does medications and health conditions. Consult with your physician for a recommended amount of water your aging adult needs each day.
Seniors at Higher Risk of Dehydration
Seniors lose water content in their body during aging. In fact, the amount of water in the body decreases by 20% by the age of 80. The progressive loss of kidney function decreases the body’s ability to retain water. In addition, thirst sensation decreases with age so older adults may unknowingly decrease his/her fluid intake. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, dementia and kidney problems also compound the problem along with certain medications that cause more frequent urination.
A senior with swallowing problems or illness might experience a lessened desire to drink at a time when more water is needed to fuel the body. Those with mobility and continence problems may voluntarily limit water intake due to the inconvenience of getting a drink or going to the bathroom at night. Adults with memory problems can forget when and if they did drink and how much.
Why So Much Water?
Did you know that the body is composed of more than 50% water? Each day, our body loses 2 to 3 quarts of water, which must be replenished to sustain good health. In addition to carrying nutrients and oxygen to and from cells throughout the body, water helps organs absorb nutrients, regulate body temperature, detoxify the body, moisten body tissues and cushion joints. Water also increases the efficiency of the immunity system and the kidney, decreases urinary tract infections and constipation and gives skin a more youthful luster.
Symptoms of Dehydration
It’s hard to identify dehydration in seniors as some symptoms are similar to other health conditions while others aren’t so obvious. Below are some mild to severe symptoms that can signal dehydration:
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Infrequent or dark urination
- Muscle cramping
- Confusion or disorientation
- Fast heart rate and breathing
- Drop in blood pressure
Discuss any symptoms with a physician who may schedule a blood test or urinalysis to confirm a diagnosis. Individuals with severe dehydration need immediate medical attention by visiting an urgent care facility or emergency room where salts and fluids are delivered intravenously for a fast recovery.
Consequences of Sever Dehydration
Seniors that lack sufficient body hydration over time can aggravate existing chronic conditions or create more serious health problems including:
- Kidney stones
- Urinary tract infections
- Heat stroke
- Seizures due to in-balanced electrolytes
- Blood clot complications
- Lowered blood volume shock
Prevention is simply avoiding dehydration, which is challenging for seniors with lessened thirst sensation and health conditions that lead to fluid depletion. As many seniors don’t understand the importance of water, caregivers should play a role to ensure they consume enough water to maintain healthy levels.
Increasing Fluid Intake
How do you get your senior parent to drink more water? Changing habits is slow for an older person set in their ways. Get creative by introducing new sources of fluid in fruits, sugar-free beverages or frozen snacks. Introduce new routines that include drinking water on a more frequent basis during different times of the day. Gradually increase fluid intake so it doesn’t turn off your senior. Here are some tips to help you along the way:
- Place a water bottle near a senior so they can take frequent sips throughout the day.
- Put a pitcher of water into the refrigerator for ready use.
- Add lemon to water.
- Serve soup with lunch or as a snack.
- Make smoothies that combine both water and fruit.
- Add Ensure or sports drinks to the diet.
- Have them drink a full glass of water with medication.
- Replace sugary drinks with fat-free versions, fruit juice or low-fat milk.
- Find a favorite beverage.
- Introduce fruits and vegetables high in water content. About 20% of fluid comes from foods.
- Limit alcohol to one drink per day for women and two for men.
Best Time to Drink Water
Yes, certain times of the day are more beneficial to the body when drinking water. For example, drinking a glass of water upon waking helps turn on the body by activating internal organs. A glass of water before meals helps with digestion and awakens the taste buds while moistening the mouth and stomach for foods. Drinking after exercise or activity replenishes water lost through perspiration. Water before bed helps prevent leg cramping.
For most of us, drinking water is an unconscious activity often triggered by thirst to avoid dehydration. For seniors, drinking water becomes critical in avoiding health complications in an already weakened body. Take an interest in getting your senior to drink fluids regularly so they remain hydrated and healthy.