To stay hydrated, seniors require 40 ounces of water each day, which is eight five-ounce glasses. However, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality studies show that seniors over 65 years of age have the most hospitalization rates for admission due to dehydration. There is also an estimate that up to 40% of retired seniors living in retirement homes are intensely underhydrated!
This intense state of underhydration allows seniors to be more susceptible to infection from UTIs and Upper Respiratory Infections. Besides, dehydration can add to an extended risk for falls. Even becoming just mildly dehydrated can harm the body.
Why Seniors Struggle to Stay Hydrated
According to Mayo Clinic, dehydration happens when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body does not have enough water and other fluids to administer its normal bodily functions.
Our bodies comprise about 60% water, in which a major portion is stored in lean tissue. The seniors have less lean tissue, which implies the proportion of water in their bodies is less. Invariably, they can easily lead to dehydration just by elements like, say, hot weather or a slight fever.
And unfortunately, as we age, the body’s built-in tools to support us to avoid dehydration start to break down. Some of the factors contributing to senior dehydration are:
- Lack of thirst
Unfortunately, the body’s mechanisms meant to guard against dehydration work less well as aging happens. Senior citizens have reduced thirst signals and become less able to concentrate their urine.
Older individuals do not tend to get thirsty as quickly as younger people. Typically, as age increases, the sense of thirst decreases also. This makes it a low probability for them to realize they should drink water as much. A senior may simply not have that natural thirst response or dry mouth sensation.
- Mobility and Incontinence Problems
There are seniors with mobility impairments, no matter how slight, who have trouble making that trip to the bathroom as quickly as they once did. They quite believe that it’s too much effort to get up throughout the day and get something to drink.
This is combined with the almost traditional incontinence issues that increase as the aging process increases. With these, increasing the fluid intake would be the last thought, if a thought at all. They may gladly choose to avoid drinking, even if they do feel thirsty.
- Unable to get their drinks
When seniors live with family, in a nursing home, or another type of community, their access to beverages may depend on the family or staff’s availability and attentiveness.
- Beverages intake
If anything, most seniors invest in beverages with caffeine and alcohol. However, these don’t really count as fluid intake. Instead, they increase the need for water because of their diuretic effects.
Few medications prescribed to seniors act as a diuretic and boost sweating. A side effect of some may be increased urination, which is another source of additional fluid loss. Some examples of medications that cause increased urination include diuretics and certain blood pressure prescriptions.
- Swallowing difficulties
Signs of Dehydration in Seniors
It is sometimes tough to recognize when a senior does not stay hydrated. Nevertheless, it’s necessary to know what some of the warning signs are. This is because dehydration in the elderly leads to increased risk for conditions like kidney stones, constipation, urinary and respiratory tract infection.
Each one of these can occur early in the dehydration process:
- Less skin elasticity: This can be a bit more difficult to notice in a senior. A quick way to check is to raise the skin on their hand. With your index finger and thumb, pinch a section of skin from the back of their hand, lift, and let go. If their skin doesn’t bounce back right away, it’s a good sign of dehydration.
- Dry sticky mouth/dry tongue with thick salvia
- Low blood pressure and rapid heart rate (usually over 100 beats per minute)
- Decreased urine output or constipation
- Dry skin and sunken eyes
- Low tear or sweat production
- Confusion, dizziness, or frequent headaches
How to Help the Seniors Stay Hydrated
To manage the seniors to stay hydrated, here are some simple tips:
- Encourage fluids. Encourage seniors to drink often and regularly. There are a few options to this – Provide the right amount of fluids to make sure they have what they always need around them. Set a water bottle that is refillable next to their bed or chair for if they have mobility issues. Create a schedule for drinking to stay on track eg. glass of water first after morning rise, a glass of water with every meal, etc.
Don’t forget, it’s best to curb water consumption before bed to wane any incontinence fears.
- Beware of caffeine, and alcohol. If excessive wine, coffee, juice, soda, etc. are consumed, like a catalyst, each can effect a speed up of the dehydration process or loss of body water. That is, coffee and alcohol can have a diuretic effect when they are drunk in high quantities. This leads to dehydration.
- Wear breathable material. Some fabrics allow the body to sweat and breathe naturally. A few of them are cotton and linen. Provide more of these and less rayon, polyester-based fabrics, and jeans.
- Take frequent breaks. Especially participating in activities outside in the heat, or even indoors, ensure there are rest breaks in between. The heat can immediately lower the energy levels of these seniors. Or, examine a timed approach to toileting. This is sort of urging the senior on a regular bathroom schedule. This can be effective for people with memory problems or mobility difficulties.
- Offer foods high in water and eat healthily. Many fruits and vegetables include considerable amounts of water to help with hydration. There are grapefruits, watermelon, tomatoes, peaches, and cucumbers. These foods support the seniors to meet the daily water requirement.
- Act on early dehydration red flags. If you can spot early signs of dehydration, act quickly. Present to them a glass of water, powerade, or coconut water to renew their electrolytes.
- Find a beverage or drink they enjoy. If they detest drinking plain water, try adding some fruit. Berries and lemons are a great supplement to water for flavor. Some other additions for taste could be cucumbers and mint.
To mix things up, try coconut water in addition to these combinations. There is also the option of herbal tea, and milk to boost water intake.
- Be aware of their medications. Some medications (eg. diuretics) can induce dehydration for a senior even faster than normal. Therefore, it is best to have their medications managed and monitored by a trained caregiver. One who is aware of any interactions that could cause dehydration, etc. Pay attention to the medications they take so you can choose to adjust their fluid intake if necessary.
Staying hydrated may seem small but it is a very crucial part of the overall health of seniors.