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Senior Living Blog

Symptoms of Dehydration in Elderly & How to Help Them Recover

Posted by Village Green Team on May 11, 2020 4:18:00 PM

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.

Symptoms of Dehydration in Elderly

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 Institute of Medicine recommends a total fluid intake—which includes water and other fluids—of about 3 liters, or 13 cups, for men per day and about 2.2 liters, or nine cups, for women per day. Other experts recommend older adults specifically consume at least 1.7 liters of water per day, or about 57.5 fluid ounces. That is the equivalent of approximately 7.1 cups per day. How much you drink is important, but so is when. It’s best to drink one to two glasses to start your day and 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.


What Is an Early Sign of Dehydration in the Elderly?

Thirst is a telltale sign that your body needs water. The problem is that for many seniors, by the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. A few other early signs of dehydration in older adults include fatigue, dizziness, confusion, headaches, less frequent urination, dark-colored urine, dry skin, and cramping. If you are not sweating even in hot weather or not producing tears, these also can be symptoms of dehydration.


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.


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), and even kidney failure. You also are more susceptible to seizures as a result of electrolytes being out of balance. When that happens, normal electrical messages can become mixed up, potentially causing involuntary muscle contractions and occasionally loss of consciousness. 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.


Elderly Woman Drinking a Glass of Water to Stay Hydrated in Federal Way, Washington


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. While water is optimal, there are other types of fluids that you can occasionally substitute for water, such as tea, fruit juice and broth. Even fresh fruits and vegetables contain high water content, so incorporating those into your daily diet can help you stay hydrated. If you’re struggling to keep yourself hydrated, you can experiment with different flavors and temperatures to see what is easiest and most convenient to consume on a regular basis.


Is Gatorade OK for Seniors?

Gatorade and other sports drinks shouldn’t be your 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 Rehydrate an Elderly Person?

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.


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“Dehydration.” Mayo Clinic. Accessed online at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/symptoms-causes/syc-20354086

“Q&A: How to Prevent, Detect, & Treat Dehydration in Aging Adults.” Better Health While Aging. Accessed online at https://betterhealthwhileaging.net/qa-how-to-prevent-diagnose-treat-dehydration-aging-adults/

Tags: Senior Health