PREVENTING DEHYDRATION IN OLDER ADULTS

MAY 22, 2020

Memorial Day weekend is a wonderful time to remember and honor the brave men and women who have fought valiantly to protect our freedoms. For many around the country, it is also the “unofficial” beginning of summer; a time to get outside with family and friends. While sunshine can bring laughter and fun memories, it can also cause illness and dehydration, especially in our elderly friends and family. 

Dehydration is a serious but often over-looked threat to the elderly. In fact, a recent study shows that 48% of older adults admitted into hospitals in emergency rooms showed signs of dehydration. As you care for an older adult, it is especially important to monitor their water intake and prevent them from suffering dehydration.

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Symptoms of Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when your body is losing more fluids than it is taking in. Because it is most experienced outside in high heat, it also referred to as heat stress, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat strokes. In seniors, it is most caused by poor water intake, but can be caused by other things such as excessive sweating, loss of blood diseases, or as side effects of prescribed medications.

According to medical professionals by the time you start to feel thirsty your body is already dehydrated! Thirst is, however, not the only symptom to watch for as a sign of dehydration. Be on the lookout for these other indicators:

    • Cracked lips
    • Dizziness or lightheaded
    • Dry, sticky mouth
    • Headaches
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Cramping in legs or stomach
    • Producing less urine or darker urine

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Best Ways to Prevent Dehydration

Fortunately, dehydration can be prevented if you are taking care of your body and are conscientious of how you feel. To take all steps possible to avoid dehydration, follow these guidelines:

Drinks Lots of Water!

The amount of water that a body needs is highly dependent on body weight. When thirst sets in, it is a sign of losing 1% of one’s body weight in water. As we approach 2% water loss, symptoms such as dizziness and lightheadedness set in. A person weighing 150 pounds needs eight ounces of water every hour for 8-10 hours a day. That turns out to be around ½ gallon of water per day! However, if someone is performing strenuous exercise or are outside on a hot day, the body will require an increase of 16-32 ounces of water per hour.

To know exactly how much water your senior’s body needs, follow the “half rule:” Drink half your body weight (in ounces, not in pounds). For example, if they weigh 150 pounds, their body needs 75 ounces of water every day.

If they are being active outside (such as playing a sport or working in the garden), try to load up on water beforehand. This is what experts like to call “water loading.” But be sure to continue to drink water at regular intervals while performing the activity!

Aging, by itself, will dull one’s senses to thirst. As we get older, our body loses its ability to regulate its fluid balance. For this reason, it is important to make your older adult drink water at regular intervals, even if they do not feel thirsty.

Plan Accordingly for your Activity

Whether you are just relaxing in the sun for a short period of time or spending long intervals outside, it is important to keep dehydration in mind and take cautionary measure to prevent it. Such cautionary measures will require thought and preparation before an activity. As part of your pre-sunshine checklist, consider the following ideas for the ones you care for:

    • Dress for the weather: Do not make yourself sweat more than you need. On a hot day, wear lightweight clothes that breathe nicely with light colors that will reflect and insulate you from the sun.
    • Pack plenty of water and snacks: Having a sufficient supply of water is essential. It is equally important to have non-caffeinated sports drinks and snacks like apples, oranges, or bananas that can be used to replace lost electrolytes.
    • Keep mist or wet towels on hand: Small fans with mist or moist towels can be used to regulate body temperature while enduring long periods of heat. But remember, it is not the water on the outside, but the water on the inside that is most important!

Be Conscientious of other Factors

Dehydration could be caused by factors other than excessive sunlight and lack of water. It can also occur in someone who has been sick with stomach ailments. Essential fluids are lost through vomiting and diarrhea and can be hard to replace. When someone is sick, they may not feel like eating or drinking. Small sips of room-temperature, clear liquids can often do the trick to replace these fluids. Chicken broth, Pedialyte, ice pops, or a banana are also remedies that can be used to replace electrolytes and potassium.

Someone suffering from diabetes is at a greater risk to experience dehydration. An excessive amount of sugar increases urination as your body tries to decrease the glucose in your blood. If your older adult has been suffering from stomach ailments or diabetes, it is especially important to be cautious with them while spending long periods in the sun.