Dehydration and the Elderly

Dehydration affects everyone, not just those who exercise, or sweat profusely. Dehydration can affect a large amount of elderly people, and for the elderly, there are many risks that should be taken into consideration. The intent of this article is to raise awareness of dehydration amongst the elderly, and if you care for an elderly person, how you can look out for signs of dehydration, and what you can do to help.

Dehydration occurs when we lose more fluids than we are taking in. Water is the base of these fluids, but dehydration takes more out of you than just water; electrolytes, sodium and glucose are big factors of dehydration, and must be acquired in order to rehydrate efficiently.

Dehydrated elderly woman drinking water from a cup to hydrate herself

Dehydration can link to many typical symptoms elderly people experience, like:

    • Weakness
    • Lack of concentration
    • Confusion
    • Lack of body fluids, like sweat, tears and urine
    • Headaches
    • Sunken eyes (commonly called bags under one’s eyes)

Chronic dehydration can cause kidney problems, an increase risk of kidney stones, and in extreme cases, death.

As humans grow older, it is very common to require assistance with day to day activities. Doing simple tasks, like drinking water, taking medication and getting around can become difficult, so if you are looking after an elderly person, you can help take an active role in hydrating your loved ones.

Dehydrated older man in white shirt drinking water to stay hydrated from a bottle

Illnesses are big causes of dehydration, particularly those which present symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting, as these drain your bodily fluids. The elderly have weaker immune systems, and are susceptible to illness, so improving one’s every day health, like maintaining a balanced diet, getting light exercise such as walking, and drinking plenty of water is an easily manageable tactic for the elderly to keep immune systems strong.

As you grow older, muscles weaken and signals sent around the body, including those which tell you that you are thirsty, weaken too. This lack of awareness one’s own thirst can be scary, but education on dehydration can be a good thirst step to prevention. (Excuse the pun..)

Elderly people are a higher risk of heatstroke, heat exhaustion and heat related dehydration. During periods of heat, the body sweats to cool down, yet if you are dehydrated, you will have less fluid to perspire. This means you won’t cool down effectively, and are at risk of heat related dehydration. Simply staying out of the sun can help, but access to water is vital.

shutterstock_321864554 As mentioned earlier, a balanced diet can help in hydration aid as well. Fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of water, and different fruits and vegetables contain different minerals. For example, bananas are rich in potassium, and cucumbers are largely made up of water.

There are also tests that can be performed at home, which don’t take much time at all. One common test is a dehydration hand test; pinch a bit of skin on the back of a hand, and see if it returns to normal condition. If the skin appears loose, and stays upright after being released, it is an indication of dehydration. Elderly people tend to experience a lack of water content in the body, and as such lose their skin’s elasticity (turgor).

Urine tests are very easy too; simply look back into the toilet after urinating, and examine the colour of the urine. If it appears dark yellow in colour, and emits a strong odour, it is a sign of dehydration; ideally urine should be light yellow, or clear colour. Encouraging elderly people to perform this test on themselves throughout the day, can help them become aware of their own hydration needs.

Blood tests are also available for those who would like to consult a doctor. A doctor will take a blood sample, and study the blood sample for normal potassium and sodium levels. These electrolytes and minerals are needed for proper hydration, which hydration tablets like O.R.S supply your drinking water with, when they would otherwise not be present.  A lack of these minerals in the human body does not cause thirst, it is the lack of water which causes that, so the body may not give any obvious signs to a lack of minerals.

O.R.S Hydration Tablets are easy to prepare, as they dissolve on their own in water. An O.R.S solution can also be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours, or 8 hours if not refrigerated, making them easy to make and store for another person.

If you have further concerns for an elderly person’s dehydration, there is an app, called O.R.S Hydration Calculator. It takes into account things like types of exercise the subject is performing in, weight, sweat rate and urine colour to make an educated guess on their hydration needs.