Dehydration can negatively affect people of all ages, but seniors and children are particularly at risk. In fact, adults 65 and older have the highest rates of hospital admission for dehydration.
Mild to moderate dehydration is fairly common, especially during warm weather, and can generally be reversed by increasing your intake of fluids throughout the day, but severe dehydration must be treated immediately.
Elderly Dehydration FAQs & Answers
Since dehydration is dangerous to senior health, it’s important to be able to prevent, detect, and treat the problem, whether your are living within a senior community or aging in place. Here are some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about dehydration to provide you information for taking care of yourself or your loved one:
Do Seniors Need to Drink More Water?
As a senior, you naturally have a lower volume of water in your body and your ability to conserve water is reduced, which means you are at greater risk of dehydration and should be consistently drinking water throughout the day. Additionally, if you have certain chronic conditions, such as dementia and diabetes, your need to consume water is amplified. As you age, your sense of thirst becomes less acute, and mobility and memory loss issues can create further complications for seniors.
How Much Water Should Seniors Drink?
The answer to exactly how much water you should drink as an older adult varies across agencies and experts. The Mayo Clinic recommends a total fluid intake, which includes water and other fluids as follows:
Men: 15.5 cups (3.7 liters)
Women: 11.5 cups (2.7 liters)
When Should I Drink All of That Water?
How much you drink is important – and so is when. It’s best practice to drink one to two glasses to start your day to activate internal organs; one glass about 30 minutes before a meal to help with digestion; one glass before a bath; and one glass before going to bed. Also, make sure you drink water leading up to and during an exercise session or fitness class at your senior living community.
For seniors (or others) who struggle sticking to a routine, or find themselves forgetting to drink water throughout the day, there are great water bottles on the market that have timestamps on the outside of the bottles, to remind you to drink your water all day long, ensuring constant hydration.
Tip: Google "water bottle time" to find examples of these bottles if you're interested!
What Is an Early Sign of Dehydration in the Elderly?
The easiest and earliest sign your body needs water may seem like a no-brainer, but it's easily dismissed: THIRST.
If you are feeling thirsty, your body needs water. The problem is that for many seniors, by the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Other early signs of dehydration in older adults include:
- Less frequent urination
- Dark-colored urine
- Dry mouth and/or skin
- Lack of sweat in hot weather
How Do You Know if You Elderly Loved One Is Chronically Dehydrated?
Dehydration is fairly common among seniors and relatively easy to recover from. However, chronic dehydration occurs when your body becomes less sensitive to water intake. As a result, it tries to make do with less water, and you may not even notice you are low on fluids. Signs of chronic dehydration can include those of normal dehydration, such as muscle fatigue and dark-colored urine. Other symptoms include constipation, constant fatigue, dry or flaky skin, ongoing muscle weakness, and frequent headaches.
Chronic Dehydration requires medical attention. If you believe you or your loved one are experiencing dehydration, never hesitate to get medical attention.
What Are the Negative Impacts of Chronic Dehydration?
Dehydration can lead to numerous serious health problems for seniors, including:
- Kidney Stones
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
- Kidney Failure
- Falls: Induced by symptoms such as feeling faint or fatigued
- Seizures: As a result of electrolytes being out of balance
Another life-threatening complication of dehydration is hypovolemic shock, which occurs when low blood volumes result in a drop in blood pressure and a decrease in the amount of oxygen in your body.
Can You Be Dehydrated Even if You Drink Lots of Water?
Generally, if you’re consuming enough fluids, you will keep your body hydrated. However, under certain circumstances, your normal water intake won’t be adequate for preventing dehydration. For example, if you are ill with an infection affecting the lungs or bladder, you are more at risk for dehydration.
Additionally, if you’re taking certain medications, like diuretics and some blood pressure medication, you tend to urinate more, expelling important fluids and electrolytes from your system at a faster rate and making you more likely to become dehydrated. If you’re sick with the flu or a fever, vomiting, or taking certain medications, you will need to consume more water than normal.
How Do You Hydrate an Elderly Person?
The goal of hydrating an older adult is increasing the consumption of fluids. Water is the main ingredient in this recipe for success, but there are other types of fluids that you can occasionally substitute for water, such as tea, fruit juice and broth.
Another great way to supplement hydration throughout the day is to include hydrating foods into your daily diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain high water content, and can help you stay hydrated. If you’re struggling to keep yourself hydrated, you can experiment with different flavors – put some lemon, cucumber, or mint into your water – and temperatures to see what is easiest and most convenient to consume on a regular basis.
How Do You Rehydrate a Mildly Dehydrated Senior?
If symptoms feel mild (thirst, temporary fatigue), water is optimal in rehydrating the body. It is suggested that you supplement your water intake with liquids that include electrolytes, such as a rehydration solution found at a pharmacy or grocery store, sports drinks, or juice.
However, if a senior is feeling symptoms of dehydration after or while consuming recommended amounts of daily water intake, this could be a sign of moderate, severe, or chronic dehydration. Moderate to Chronic dehydration may require medical attention from a health care professional, such as:
- Sodium testing
- Intravenous (IV) supplementation
- Short-term dialysis for severe to chronic dehydration that has affected the kidneys
Is Gatorade OK for Seniors?
Gatorade and other sports drinks shouldn’t be your sole, go-to source of beverage to stay hydrated because they are high in sugar and can mess with your diet. However, they also possess electrolytes to replenish your body, so they can be helpful if you have been vomiting, experiencing diarrhea, or having challenges with your heart rate or blood pressure.
Taking a few sips of Gatorade or a commercial rehydration solution can help restore those critical electrolytes more swiftly.
How Long Does It Take to Recover From Dehydration for Seniors?
The time it takes to treat dehydration in older adults depends on the severity. If you are mildly dehydrated, you often will start to feel better within 10 to 15 minutes of drinking water, a sports drink, or juice.
For moderate dehydration, you typically will be treated with intravenous hydration in urgent care or the emergency room over the course of a few hours or a day. You also may be able to receive immediate treatment for dehydration on site at your assisted living campus.
Severe dehydration requires additional intervention to support your kidneys, and you may even have to undergo short-term dialysis.
Supporting Long-Term Health and Wellness for Seniors
Not only do seniors experience dehydration more regularly than younger people, but the effects of the fluid shortage also tend to be more severe. At Village Green Retirement Campus, whether you or your loved one are in assisted living, independent living, or respite care housing, your overall health and wellness are our top priorities. For seniors in independent living, we provide two, non-intrusive well-being checks per day, with more comprehensive health support and services available to those in assisted living.
“Dehydration.” Mayo Clinic. Accessed online at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/symptoms-causes/syc-20354086
"Signs and Symptoms of Low-Intake Dehydration Do Not Work in Older Care Home Residents - DRIE Diagnostic Accuracy Study" National Library of Medicine - National Center for Biotechnology Information. Accessed online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30872081/