What is Dehydration?
When it comes to maintaining our health, there really aren’t that many things more important than staying hydrated. Our bodies use water in so many ways, from regulating our temperature to aiding in digestion.
For the most part, the human body can’t last more than 4 days without water, which really isn’t that long when you think about it.
If we fail to drink more water than our body requires, these normal, everyday functions become a lot harder to carry out. Eventually, you reach a state dehydration—and it’s more common than you might think!
If you want to get scientific, mild dehydration occurs when fluid loss accounts for 5% of our body weight, moderate dehydration is a 10% loss and severe dehydration is 15% or more. Even mild dehydration can cause health complications.
Dehydration in elderly
If our able-bodied, sharp-minded selves can’t seem to drink enough water throughout the day, it shouldn’t be surprise that our elderly parents struggle to stay hydrated. In fact, dehydration is one of the most common reasons for hospitalization for seniors.
This real issue here—and it’s a rather big one—is that dehydration is much more serious for seniors than it is for younger individuals.
That feeling of being “thirsty” we generally get is often a sign that our bodies are lacking in precious H2O. Unfortunately, that sensation is less noticeable for seniors. Realizing they might be dehydrated might not occur until more serious symptoms arise.
Our kidneys also tend to become less efficient in our later years, which results in them conserving less fluid.
Causes of Dehydration
Medication – Most seniors these days are on at least one type of medication. Some of these often act as a diuretic, which causes us to sweat and urinate more.
Illness – This is a quick way to becoming dehydrated. Vomiting and diarrhea cause sudden drops in our fluid levels, which can lead to rapid dehydration.
Mental Illness – If your parents are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, they may not remember to drink water throughout the day.
Signs and Symptoms
There a number of signs that can indicate when an elderly individual might be dehydrated. Left unchecked, these can easily become more severe or even life-threatening.
The problem is that not all these symptoms are easy to detect. They might be masked by pre-existing conditions, or just subtle enough to not appear to be an issue. While this might seem to be the case, the effects of dehydration might be having a much greater effect on the body.
- Confussion or dizziness
- Weakness or irratibility
- Urinary Tract Infections
- Dryness of the mouth
- Increased heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Constipation and/or decreased urination
- Sunken Eyes
- Rapid breathing
- Lack of sweat or tears – this is often a sign of severe If you notice your loved one isn’t sweating, bring them to the hospital immediately.
One easy way to tell if your mom or dad is dehydrated is by checking their skin elasticity, otherwise known as skin turgor. Grasp their skin with two fingers (typically on their lower arm or abdomen) and pull it slightly upwards. Wait a few seconds and let go. If the skin takes a while to return to its normal position, they may be experiencing moderate to sever dehydration.
Preventing dehydration in elderly
Obviously, the easiest way to stay hydrated is to drink water. You’ve probably heard that this requires roughly 8 glasses a day, but in fact the amount varies from person to person. It really comes down to how much you weigh and the level of activity you perform throughout the day.
If your mom or dad suffers from arthritis, dysphagia, or tremors, they might struggle to drink a single glass of water, let alone 8. Its important that they don’t get discouraged. There are plenty of drinking cups designed for the elderly that can help make their lives easier. Make sure they have one close to their bed as well. You should also remind your parents to drink water regardless of whether they feel thirsty or not. As I mentioned before, their sense of thirst may not be apparent.
Staying hydrated also doesn’t just result from drinking water. Vegetables and fruit often have high water content, which most certainly gets utilized by the body.
One easy way of tracking your parent’s general fluid levels is by having them weigh themselves in the morning. If they compare their weight to the previous day and find they weigh a few pounds less, it’s likely they are dehydrated. This isn’t a perfect science however, so be sure to stay aware of other symptoms.
When all is said and done, it really comes down to preventing dehydration in the first place. It’s much easier to maintain proper fluid levels than it is to treat your parents once symptoms arise.