Adults ages 65 and up have the highest hospital admission rates for dehydration.
By Barrett White
Texas is warming back up and we all know what that means: high temperatures and humidity are on their way to the Gulf Coast region. As the temperatures begin to climb back up, it’s important to remember that seniors are more susceptible to dehydration than other age groups. In fact, adults ages 65 and up have the highest hospital admission rates for dehydration.
We don’t hydrate only to prevent the bad side effects, either. We also hydrate because of the good it does for us. Consistent hydration can have the desired side effects of increased energy, less lethargy, better mental clarity, more regular digestion, clearer skin, and many more benefits for the body and mind.
There are many ways for your body to lose hydration, especially over the warmer months – primarily through sweat – but we also lose hydration through using the bathroom and even breathing. If you find yourself ill, vomiting and diarrhea also eliminate water from the body (which is why your physician will remind you to drink lots of water when you’re sick).
If we do not replace the fluids in our bodies that we have lost during periods of heat, sickness, or other periods of water loss, we can easily become dehydrated. This is dangerous because dehydration can disrupt normal bodily functions, which could prove deadly for seniors.
While dehydration is dangerous for anyone, it is especially dangerous for seniors because as we age, our kidneys are less efficient at concentrating urine in order to store water during times of decreased hydration. Many seniors also take diuretics to control congestive heart failure or fluid retention, which puts them at further risk for dehydration if they do not balance their fluid intake. Likewise, decreased mobility is also a concern for some seniors – do you have easily accessible water nearby?
“Many seniors do not normally sweat as they get older, too,” says Dr. Hattie Henderson, a clinical family practice physician at Legacy Community Health. “Consequently, they rarely feel ‘overheated’ until it is too late. In addition, their thirst mechanism may decrease as they get older, so they do not normally feel thirsty until they are really dehydrated.”
Per the Mayo Clinic, mild to moderate dehydration is likely to cause:
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Decreased urine output
- Few or no tears when crying
- Dry skin
Severe dehydration, which is considered a medical emergency, can cause:
- Extreme thirst
- Irritability and confusion
- Very dry mouth, skin, and mucous membranes (such as inner nose)
- Little or no urination; urine that is produced is darker than normal
- Sunken eyes
- Shriveled and dry skin that lacks elasticity and doesn’t “bounce back” when pinched into a fold
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- No tears when crying
- Fever, in some cases
- In the most serious cases, delirium or unconsciousness can occur
Dehydration in seniors can cause confusion, delirium and even renal failure. Prolonged dehydration can easily cause a change in mental status. So, what can we do to assure proper hydration?
Drink water even if you’re not thirsty. You don’t have to wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Just take a sip! Clear water is best, but if you don’t care for the taste of plain water and are craving something with flavor, adding flavor boosts like Crystal Light, Propel, or Mio is fine, too. Drinking beverages like coffee or tea is better than nothing at all, but be aware that caffeine can also cause you to lose hydration as your body processes it, so consider drinking water along with such beverages.
Drink enough fluids. According to the Mayo Clinic, we should be shooting for roughly one gallon of fluids a day for men and about 3/4 gallon of fluids a day for women. You can find gallon-sized water bottles at your local grocery store, Walmart, Target, online, and elsewhere. These can be a bit large to carry around all day, so as an alternative you could pick up an affordable 40-ounce water bottle and remember to drink about 3 fills of it per day for men, and about 2.5 a day for women.
Eat your water. Fruits and vegetables have high water concentrations. Consuming fruits like watermelon, honeydew, and pineapple, and vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, and celery are great ways to get some extra hydration in your system.
Check yourself. The lighter the color of your urine, the more hydrated you are. If your urine is dark yellow or amber, pour yourself a glass of water (and another). You can also check your tongue: is it moist or dry?
Dehydration is a serious issue. Make sure you’re getting enough fluids in your system so you can not only avoid the health issues that dehydration causes, but reap the benefits that water brings.
Discuss hydration with your provider during your next Geriatrics visit. Call (832) 548-5000 or visit www.LegacyCommunityHealth.org to schedule your next appointment.