Water, water, everywhere… so drink!

Drinking water is a way for seniors to avaiod dehydrationDid you know that older adults need up to 10 percent more fluids than that of their younger counterparts? It’s true that as people get older, they get drier.

Dehydration is one of the most frequent causes for hospitalization for seniors. It can occur quickly, often without notice. But most likely the process of mild, chronic dehydration may have taken hold years or decades earlier.

According to Seniorslist.com, an elderly person should drink a minimum of at least six, eight-ounce glasses of water per day. More would be better.

Interestingly, the process of physical dehydration begins in the fetus. It accelerates at birth, childhood and throughout adulthood. A fetus is over 93% water. Dehydration gradually continues into old age when a person’s water content reaches only 60%. Most of this is water lost from the inside of cells.

What is clear is that many elderly simply do not drink enough fluids especially water, and adequate hydration is a chronic problem for many seniors.

Why don’t older adults drink enough?

  • A major contributing factor for dehydration in the elderly includes a lowered thirst response. “But I’m not thirsty,” is a common response to being asked to drink more. The thirst sensation decreases with age, so basically, it is not reliable.
  • Some medications such as anti-depressants or for high blood pressure are diuretic and may affect a body’s ability to regulate fluid balance.
  • Dry mouth becomes something the elderly get used to. However, drinking more water brings back some sensation.
  • The perceptions of thirst and hunger come from the same part of the brain. Thirst and hunger could become confused in the minds of many seniors. They drink when they should be eating or vice versa.
  • Frail seniors have a harder time getting up to get a drink when they’re thirsty.
  • The loss of thirst is the body’s way of dealing with the information that water is not going to be consumed. Years of drinking less water for our body weight leads the mouth-brain connection to minimize the thirst sensation.
  • When thirst is perceived, too many elderly settle for a few ounces of water or sugary and/or caffeinated drinks instead of water.
  • As we age our bodies lose kidney function and are less able to conserve fluid. This is progressive from around the age of 50, but becomes more acute and noticeable over the age of 70.
  • Illness, especially one that causes vomiting and/or diarrhea, also can cause elderly dehydration.

Some of the signs and symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, fatigue, flushed skin, irritability, anxiety, depressed mood, insomnia, concentration problems, light-headedness or dizziness, darkening of urine, increased weight loss and muscle weakness. Severe dehydration can lead to kidney failure and even death if not recognized and treated.

To prevent dehydration, fluids need to be easily available. Set up a hydration schedule offering fluids every couple of hours. A reminder could include to drink every time urination takes place. Another reminder could be to fill up a bottle of water, place it in the refrigerator with the goal to drink it all by 3 hours before bedtime. The bottle could gradually get bigger as weeks pass.

It is also wise that older adults eat fruits and vegetables that are rich in water such as broccoli, tomatoes, and oranges.
Drink first thing in the morning. Drink two hours after meals. Drink with meals.

Dehydration in seniors can be managed. As people drink more water, some improvements may be experienced immediately. However, it could take weeks for cells to become hydrated, so…

…be patient and keep drinking.


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