Dehydration; when the body loses more fluids than it takes in, is an often overlooked health risk in older people. 

We all know the importance of drinking enough water in order to help the body get rid of waste, to regulate our temperature, and to lubricate our joints. It also helps to keep us alert, prevents headaches, and helps to keep our skin and hair healthy. 

The benefits are numerous. 

Staying well-hydrated becomes even more important as we age. This is because older people are more at risk of complications if they don’t take in enough fluids.

Complications such as:

  • Kidney problems
  • Loss of balance
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Constipation

But why are older people more susceptible to becoming dehydrated? What are the symptoms? And how can we prevent our elderly loved ones from suffering the effects of dehydration?

First let’s take a look at some of the risk factors. 

The amount of fluid in our bodies naturally decreases as we age. Couple this with a weaker thirst response, meaning that older adults may not be aware when they need to rehydrate, and you have a recipe for disaster.

More water is lost through urination as we get older, as our kidney function begins to decline. Underlying health conditions, along with certain medications can also lead to an increase in water loss through urination…but of course this isn’t the only cause for dehydration in the elderly.

  • Heat exposure – time spent in hot or humid conditions leads to increased sweating, which equals fluid loss. Something to think about with this spell of hot weather we’ve had!
  • Illness – Fever, vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration.
  • Medications – A side effect of some medications, such as diuretics and blood pressure medications, is increased urination.
  • Mobility Problems – Older people who have mobility problems might find it difficult to access water on their own.
  • Underlying Health Conditions – Medical conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease can mean you lose more fluid than normal.

So, if you are caring for an elderly loved one, what are the symptoms to look out for when it comes to dehydration?

Symptoms Of Dehydration

Common symptoms to look out for in someone who is dehydrated include:

  • A dry mouth
  • A decrease in urination
  • Muscle cramps
  • Sunken eyes
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Feelings of dizziness or light-headedness

More serious signs of dehydration that would require immediate medical attention include:

  • Trouble moving or walking
  • A rapid heart rate
  • Fainting 
  • Diarrhea or vomiting lasting more than 24 hours
  • Confusion or disorientation

If an elderly loved one is experiencing one or more of these symptoms it’s of the utmost importance that you seek medical attention for them right away. Don’t wait. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Untreated dehydration can be very serious and can lead to potentially life-threatening complications such as:

  • Kidney problems such as kidney stones or even kidney failure
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Seizures caused by low levels of sodium and potassium
  • Heat exhaustion or heat stroke
  • Hypovolemic shock – a life-threatening complication that causes a drop in blood pressure and oxygen levels due to low blood volume

Treatment For Someone With Dehydration

If someone is dehydrated it’s important to replace those lost fluids by getting them to drink water or other fluids such as fruit juices. 

If your elderly loved one is experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, they could be losing electrolytes as well as water. In this case it can be helpful for them to drink something containing electrolytes – such as a sports drink, or Dioralyte, which is often given to younger children who are suffering dehydration and lost electrolytes due to illness. 

Severe dehydration could result in hospitalisation where fluids and electrolytes can be given intravenously. 

It can be hard at times to make sure that we’re drinking enough – let alone someone older who we are caring for! But with the health complications for older people being so much more serious, these tips could be invaluable in keeping someone you love hydrated and healthy:

Tips To Prevent Dehydration

  • Drink plenty of fluids 

it sounds obvious, but encourage your elderly loved ones to drink water throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be boring old tap water either; sparkling water, milk and fruit juices are all beverages that will help someone to stay hydrated. Advise older people to drink tea and coffee sparingly as both can have a diuretic effect, leading to more water loss.

  • Small Sips

There’s no need to start knocking back huge glasses or water or taking huge gulps…if an elderly person finds it hard to drink too much liquid at once, just encourage small, regular sips.

  • Eat High Water-Content Foods

Encourage your elderly loved one to include high water-content foods into their diet. Some examples are watermelon, strawberries, cucumber, celery and low-salt soups.

  • Add Flavour!

Add slices or a squeeze of lemon or lime to water to make it more appealing.

  • Plan Ahead

Make sure that older people have water on hand if they’re going to be exercising or spending a prolonged time in hot or humid weather.

  • Drink More If You’re Ill

It’s important to drink more than normal if you have symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.

  • Ask A GP

If an elderly loved one has an underlying health condition, speak to a GP about any specific hydration needs.

  • Make Water Accessible

Make sure that an older loved one can easily access water whether there is someone there to assist them or not.

  • Make Sure The Bathroom Is Easily Accessible

 An older person might be concerned about making it to the toilet in time if they are drinking more fluids. Make sure that the toilet is easy for them to get to and use.

Making sure that an elderly person in your care has ready access to fluids and drinking regularly are key to preventing dehydration. Being aware of any health issues and medications is also a good idea. 

If you’re caring for an older person and you feel you need some at-home help – perhaps someone to pop in and make them a drink during the day while you are working, help with taking medications, or even with the weekly shop – our dedicated and professional carers at Care In Kent could help. Give us a call and speak to a member of our team today.