Dehydration is one of the most serious, and often most overlooked health issues that impacts seniors today. While it may seem like a relatively mild problem, if left untreated or undiagnosed, ongoing dehydration can cause serious health issues and even death in any senior adult. While all seniors are at risk from suffering from dehydration, seniors struggling with Alzheimer's or dementia are often at the greatest risks for dealing with dehydration. Even individuals living in nursing homes or memory care units with the support of caregivers can suffer with serious bouts of dehydration.
One of the best things that seniors and their loved ones can do is to educate themselves on dehydration, its causes and its effects so they can make sure this hidden risk doesn't become a serious problem.
Why are Seniors At Risk For Dehydration?
Simply put, dehydration occurs when the body does not have enough water to function as it should. Many assume that dehydration only occurs when a person doesn't drink enough water. However, in all reality there are a number of other ways that someone can become dehydrated and many of those risk factors are specifically targeted at seniors.
Many times, the side effects of medications that seniors are on can cause issues with dehydration. When medications cause excessive sweating, hot flashes, loss of appetite, nausea or diarrhea, they can all also cause someone to be extremely dehydrated. Medications that act as diuretics also put seniors at a great risk of becoming dehydrated.
Seniors who have other risk factors are at even greater risk for dehydration. These additional risk factors include:
- Swallowing disorders (often accompanied by Alzheimer's, dementia and Parkinson's disease)
- Ailments that cause seniors to be bedridden
- Those taking blood pressure medications and antihistamines
- Obese seniors
- Seniors with diabetes who urinate frequently
- Patients with illnesses that cause vomiting or diarrhea (such as those enduring chemo)
- Seniors with five or more chronic illnesses
- Seniors living in higher altitudes
- Individuals with cystic fibrosis
- Seniors on more than five prescription medications
In general, as seniors continue to age, their bodies become less able to regulate its fluid balance, this means that seniors don't feel as thirsty as often and therefore simply don't drink liquids as often to restore this balance. As the body ages, it also experiences a decline in muscle mass, which means it is retaining less water. Meanwhile, as the kidneys age, they are not as efficient, causing older adults to lose more water while concentrating urine.
How to Spot the Signs of Dehydration
One of the scariest things about dehydration among the elderly, is that many times seniors are not able to tell that they are dehydrated until they become very ill. This is why caregivers and loved ones should be on the lookout for the signs and symptoms of dehydration in their senior loved one. Some of the most common signs of dehydration include:
- Cramping in the limbs
- The inability to produce tears while crying
- Dry mouth
- Thick saliva
- Dark yellow or brown urine
- Issues producing urine
- Cloudy or fogged brain
- Joint pain
- Unusual cravings for food
- Fatigue and weakness
In cases of advanced dehydration other symptoms may include:
- Severe muscle contractions
- Low blood pressure
- Wrinkled skin
- Dry and sunken in eyes
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid and weak pulse
These are all signs of dehydration and may be cause for concern. Seniors experiencing these symptoms need to start drinking water right away. If symptoms do not remedy themselves immediately, they may need to visit a doctor or hospital for further assistance.
Complications Associated With Dehydration
When a senior, or any person is severely dehydrated, they can suffer from more than just cramps and headaches. In fact, there are a number of serious health complications that can come from dehydration. These serious complications can include:
- Brain swelling. When a person is severely dehydrated then consumes a great deal of water, the cells in the brain can try to store water too quickly. This can cause damage in the brain or even the rupturing of brain cells.
- Loss of consciousness. Many seniors are at risk of passing out and losing consciousness when they experience extreme dehydration.
- Kidney failure. When the body is extremely dehydrated, the kidneys may no longer be able to function, meaning they can no longer remove waste from the blood.
- Seizures. Dehydration can cause involuntary muscle contractions or seizures.
- Coma or death. In severe cases, dehydration has led to death or serious comas for some seniors.
These serious complications are why it is so important for any senior showing the signs of severe dehydration to go to the hospital. Many times, when the body is truly dehydrated a simple glass of water will not be enough to help seniors recover and avoid these potentially life-threatening side effects.
How to Prevent Dehydration in Seniors
Dehydration may be a very common issue among seniors, but it is also a very preventable issues. There are several things that seniors can do in order to prevent dehydration from setting in and to stop more serious health issues from forming. This includes:
- Drinking at least five glasses of water per day.
- Avoiding alcohol.
- Limiting caffeine intake as it is a diuretic.
- Using sports drinks or electrolyte-filled drinks such as Pedialyte whenever dehydration strikes.
- Maintaining proper nutrition and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables as they are filled with water.
- Drinking in small amounts constantly throughout the day.
- Avoid high-protein drinks.
- Consider adding natural juice or milk to the liquid routine to encourage seniors to drink more, it can be more than just water.
Dehydration is actually one of the most common reasons seniors end up in the hospital today. It is a serious issue that impacts millions of older adults and a problem that can be avoided with a little extra care, attention and plenty of water.