Dehydration Prevention & Treatment For The Elderly

What is dehydration?

Dehydration is an excess loss of water that disrupts the body’s normal functions.  It takes place when someone loses more fluids than they take in. For many elderly people, chronic dehydration is a major concern that can lead to hospitalization and health issues. Generally speaking, humans can only survive for 4 days without water. 


Why is dehydration such a major concern for the elderly?

Here are some of the primary reasons why seniors are more susceptible to dehydration:

  1. Many medications for depression and blood pressure list dehydration as a possible side effect.
  2. Seniors don’t feel thirsty as easily as younger people.  By the time someone is actually thirsty, they’re usually at least slightly dehydrated.
  3. For people with dementia or other memory issues, forgetting to drink water can be a problem.
  4. Kidney function deteriorates as people age, making it more difficult to conserve fluids in the body. 
  5. Diabetics are also more susceptible to dehydration. 


What are the signs of dehydration?

Signs of dehydration for you or an elderly loved one include:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Trouble using the bathroom
  • Exhaustion
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty walking
  • Headaches or dizziness

One way to tell if someone is dehydrated is to pull up the skin on the back of the hand for a few seconds then releasing.  If it doesn’t return to normal immediately, that person is probably dehydrated. 


Is drinking “8 glasses of water a day” enough?

You probably heard the recommendation that everyone should drink 8 glasses of water a day.  The problem is normal levels of hydration vary person-to-person. 

Diet can play a major role in how much water is required.  For example, someone that eats a lot of fruit or soups won’t need to drink as much water to maintain hydration levels. 

Activity level is a second factor that determines how much water is needed.  Endurance athletes that perspire heavily may need even more than 8 glasses of water per day.  Many seniors with lower activity levels won’t need 8 glasses of water each day. 


How do you prevent dehydration in seniors?

For many seniors, dehydration can be easily treated by drinking more water and the occasional sports drink (ex: Gatorade or Powerade).  It’s important to drink even when you don’t feel thirsty, and carrying a bottle of water during the day can be a great reminder. 

If you or a loved one are in a senior care facility, ask the staff what safeguards are in place to prevent dehydration. 

Seniors should also weigh themselves frequently, at least a few times each week.  If someone loses more than 2 pounds in 24 hours, they’re probably losing water weight and are dehydrated. 

If dehydration is severe, persists for days despite increasing fluid intake, or is caused by an illness, it may be a good time to call 911. 

As with any health concern, prevention is the key.