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What are the signs of dehydration in seniors?

April 9, 2018

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What are the signs of dehydration in seniors?

April 9, 2018

Summer is coming up quickly, and with it will come much warmer temperatures. The hotter weather will begin to affect one group of citizens more so than many others: seniors.


As we age, our bodies begin to have a reduced ability to maintain water reserves. This puts senior citizens at a higher risk level than those age 18 - 64. Studies have shown that up to 46% of older adults in residential care had either impending or current dehydration.


Dehydration is also a common occurrence in seniors because our thirst signals become weaker. This leads to less frequent liquid consumption overall. Other issues that can make seniors more susceptible to dehydration include:

  • Urinary incontinence issues which may cause older adults to drink less frequently

  • Memory problems which can lead to lower fluid intake

  • Swallowing difficulties

  • Mobility issues

  • Medications (such as heart and blood pressure medications) that may be diuretics, which lead to increased fluid loss

  • Sickness that includes vomiting or diarrhea


How do I tell if someone is dehydrated?


Though a physical observation of dehydration symptoms isn't a guaranteed way to determine if a senior is dehydrated (only a blood test can affirm it), the signs can include:

  • Dark-colored urine or less frequent urination

  • Sunken eyes

  • Delirium

  • Weakness

  • Dizziness

  • Low systolic blood pressure

  • High heart rate

  • Dry mouth or dry skin in the armpit area


What happens when someone is dehydrated?


There are several things that happen to a person when they are dehydrated depending on the level of severity.


If the older person is mildly dehydrated, the physical symptoms listed above can occur. The dizziness and weakness can make them especially prone to falling. Read more on how to fall-proof your home here.


If the severity of dehydration is more severe, kidney function will be impaired and may eventually shut down if left untreated.


Chronic, ongoing dehydration can also lead to kidney stones.


How do you treat dehydration?


Treatment of dehydration really depends on the severity of the case.  Treatment can begin after a diagnosis rendered by laboratory blood testing.


Treatment of mild dehydration is often as simple as increasing fluid intake. While drinking water or tea for this is suitable, drinks (such as sports drinks) with electrolytes are often encouraged.


For moderate dehydration, IV fluids may be needed to provide a more direct and immediate solution to the problem.


For severe dehydration may require additional support to the kidneys and possible short-term dialysis.


How do you prevent dehydration in older adults?


Seniors should ideally be consuming about 7 - 8 cups of fluids per day to stay hydrated. There is no guideline necessarily on what fluids should or shouldn't be consumed to achieve this goal (besides alcohol of course), but it is thought to be best to limited caffeinated drinks. Drinks containing caffeine tend to stimulate the bladder causing undesired effects.


Here are some helpful suggestions to ensure that someone you may be caring for is getting enough fluids:

  • Offer them a drink on a regular schedule to encourage fluid intake

  • Make sure that the drink you are offering is appealing to them

  • Offer a straw if they would prefer or if it would be helpful in consuming the liquid

  • Log how much they are drinking each day so that you can keep better track of how hydrated they are

  • Offer fruits and vegetables as well as these contribute to daily water intake

Sunshine Home Care is and Altus, OK home health agency serving most of Western Oklahoma. For more information on our agency, visit here or contact us today.


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