Staying Hydrated is More Than Just Quenching Your Thirst
By Laura Stadler, MS, RD, CDN
We survived the summer heat wave, but staying hydrated is important year round.
Dehydration is a form of malnutrition that has serious health risks, and in older adults, may result in constipation, fecal impaction, cognitive impairment, functional decline, falls and death. The risk of dehydration increases in hot weather, and older adults, especially those over 85 years, have an even higher risk of dehydration because of some of the normal physiological changes of aging such as less body water, a decrease in the kidney's ability to concentrate urine, decreased sensation of thirst and decline in the hormonal regulation of blood pressure and fluid balance. These all make it extremely important for seniors to drink plenty of fluids on hot days. In addition to changes from healthy aging, dementia, medication side effects, poor mobility and fear of incontinence may cause some people to reduce their intake of fluids.
The common signs and symptoms of dehydration include excessive thirst, fatigue, headache, dry mouth, little or no urination, muscle weakness, dizziness and light-headedness which may be harder to recognize in older adults. Dehydration can also be identified by weight loss, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, decreased skin turgor and dry tongue. A decrease in urine output or an on-set of constipation may also signal dehydration.
In hot weather, the body needs even more water than normal. To cool itself, the body sends more blood to the skin, but still needs to send enough blood to the vital organs like the heart and brain. This requires additional water to produce a greater volume of blood. If the body doesn't have enough water to provide adequate blood flow, it puts you at risk for coma, heart attack or kidney failure.
What are the best ways to support seniors in staying hydrated?
Remind them to drink water throughout the day, even if they do not feel thirsty.
Offer a beverage with every meal and between each meal.
Provide water with medications.
Water, juice, milk, tea and even coffee all count towards total fluid intake. Encourage water intake if your patient has diabetes to limit sugar intake.
6-8 servings of 8 ounce-sized beverages should be enough fluid for most people.
Other Tips for Staying Hydrated in the Heat:
Don't skip meals - eat well, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are a great source of water (plus vitamins, minerals and fiber).
Wear sunscreen if you'll be outside.
Stay in a cool or air conditioned house during the hottest part of the day.