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Dehydration in the Elderly: Symptoms and How to Prevent It

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Dehydration in the Elderly: Symptoms & How to Prevent It

September 21, 2016

Dehydration happens whenever a person loses more fluid than they take in. Keeping the right balance of fluids allows the body to carry out its normal functions.
water being poured into a glass Normally, our sense of thirst is our body’s way of indicating the need for water. But as we age, we become less aware of thirst. Plus, older adults have a smaller fluid reserve and are unable to conserve water in the body as efficiently. That makes dehydration in the elderly a serious health risk. A loss of only 2 to 3 percent of body fluid can cause dehydration in an elderly patient. When that happens, symptoms may not seem like dehydration, including less-frequent urination, fatigue, dizziness and confusion.

While mild to moderate dehydration can be remedied by drinking more fluids, severe dehydration requires medical attention. For the elderly, consistent or chronic dehydration can cause serious health complications. 

Causes & Effects of Elderly Dehydration

While dehydration in seniors can happen because of inadequate water intake, the causes of elderly dehydration can also include:

  • Diseases like diabetes
  • Decreased kidney function
  • Side effects from medications
  • Illness
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Excess sweating
  • Blood loss

On average, the human adult needs between 11 and 15 cups of water daily for optimal health. About 20 percent of that amount comes from the food we eat. That means all adults should drink about eight or nine cups of water a day. Without sufficient water, dehydration can occur and have adverse effects, including:

Signs & Symptoms of Dehydration in the Elderly

It is important for family caregivers to take time to learn the symptoms of dehydration. Early intervention can keep a small problem from becoming a life threatening one.

Here are a few common warning signs and symptoms of elderly dehydration:

  • Dizziness or unsteady gait
  • Confusion
  • Being overly tired or unusually fatigued
  • Dry mouth, skin or eyes
  • Sunken eyes
  • Low urine output
  • Low blood pressure

Because these signs are already common in people with Alzheimer’s, it might be difficult to tell the difference. Experts recommend caregivers monitor their senior loved one’s liquid intake and urine output, especially on hot days.

Dehydration in Elderly Patients With Dementia

You’ve no doubt read or heard about the staggering number of people in this country who live with Alzheimer’s or a related form of dementia. In the U.S. alone, 5.4 million people have Alzheimer’s. That breaks down to one in nine adults over the age of 65.

A common challenge family caregivers face is keeping a senior loved one with Alzheimer’s hydrated. For a variety of reasons ranging from forgetting to drink to medication side effects, adults with this disease are at higher risk for dehydration.

So what can family caregivers due to prevent dehydration in elderly with dementia?

Prevent Dehydration in Elderly with Dementia

Here are some of the best ways to prevent dehydration in an elderly person, especially those living with memory loss:

Lead by example:

Family caregivers are notorious for putting their own health on the back burner while they care for a loved one. This includes not drinking enough water each day. Make a point of filling one water jug for you and one for your loved one each morning. Use them to keep refilling each of your glasses throughout the day until your jugs are empty. It might help to drink from a sports bottle or insulated cup that keeps your water cold all day. If you get tired of drinking plain water, add lemons, berries or herbs to enhance the flavor. 

Encourage your loved one to drink throughout the day:

People with memory loss may simply forget to drink water. Make it a practice to encourage them to drink often. Don’t just ask your family member if they want a drink. Instead, hand their cup to them and urge them to drink. 

Plan menus with foods that promote hydration:

There are other steps you can take besides drinking water that will help promote hydration. Eating the right foods is one. Many fruits and vegetables, like berries, melon, cucumber, lettuce and other leafy greens are high in water content. 

Review your loved one’s medication side effects:

Some medications, including both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, can contribute to dehydration. Review the warning labels from the pharmacy or speak with the pharmacist to determine if your loved one takes any medications known to cause dehydration. If they do, you should speak with the prescribing physician for more advice on how to avoid dehydration.

Memory Care Programs for Adults with Alzheimer’s

At Elmcroft Senior Living, we know dehydration in seniors is just one of the many unique challenges seniors with Alzheimer’s face. It’s why we created, Chronicles. Our specialized memory care program honors each resident’s life history in an environment designed to support success.

If you are finding it difficult to manage a loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease at home, we invite you to call the Elmcroft Senior Living community nearest you that offers Memory Care to schedule a tour.

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