The elderly need to take extra precautions to stay hydrated

The elderly need to take extra precautions to stay hydrated
Amy Boulware is director of nursing for North Oaks, a senior living facility in Pikesville. (Baltimore Sun)

Keeping the body hydrated is important for everyone, but older people may face more challenges. Amy Boulware, director of nursing for North Oaks, a senior living facility in Pikesville, talks about how medications and lifestyle may make it hard for them to stay hydrated.

Why are the elderly prone to dehydration?


The elderly are at risk for hydration concerns because, like many of us, they do not drink enough, but more importantly, many seniors take medications like diuretics and laxatives that contribute to fluid loss. Many elderly persons that have limited mobility can no longer obtain sufficient fluids for reasons such as being unable to reach or handle a glass or cup, or just being unwilling to drink for fear of a frequent need to use the bathroom or suffering incontinence.

What types of medical problems may contribute to dehydration in the elderly?

Nearly 75 percent of the human body is composed of water. Water makes up an astonishing 85 percent of the human brain. Research suggests that dehydration is oftentimes underestimated as a potential threat. Infections and high blood sugar can contribute to dehydration in the elderly because they can cause fluid loss in the body. The assessment of renal function in the elderly may also be altered from normal findings. Many times the initial findings may mask other findings and conditions, therefore, other assessments must be made like reviewing medical history, physical examinations, and laboratory tests and possibly X-rays.

What can the elderly do to prevent dehydration? Are there things they can do other than drinking more water?

Drinking water alone is not the only way to achieve proper hydration. There are many different types of fruits and vegetables which have an adequate amount of water content. Watermelon, oranges, celery, and carrots are all good options for increasing hydration. If somebody doesn't like the taste of water, he or she can add some lemon or consider supplementing with green tea. Other options for hydration may include soups, broths, sport drinks and flavored waters. It is best to avoid alcoholic beverages and soft drinks.

How can an elderly person tell if they are dehydrated?

Feelings and warning signs of thirst are diminished greatly with age. However, it is important to watch out for warning signs which may include weakness, leg cramps, fatigue, confusion, decreased skin turgor, rough, dry or coated tongue, fever, weight loss and, at times, restlessness and agitation.

Why is it important to stay hydrated?

Hydration is maintaining a proper fluid balance throughout the body. Insufficient consumption of fluids may result in digestive trouble, urinary tract infections, kidney failure, and improper blood circulation. Altered fluid balance impairs cell activity, therefore, hydrating oneself protects you from physical harm. If not taken seriously, it can be quite difficult to consume the recommended amount of fluids on a regular basis. It is suggested that 8, 8 ounce glasses of water be consumed throughout the day. It is very important to keep in mind that consuming a large amount of water in one sitting is not recommended. Sipping water, milk, or juice throughout the day will help achieve a healthy distribution of fluids within the body. The elderly should be aware of the signs of insufficient fluids and consult a physician to help identify individual needs.

Can dehydration lead to other health problems, such as kidney stones?

Maintaining a healthy balance of fluids in the body promotes normal function of body systems. For instance, the excretory system functions in many ways to regulate the volume and composition of fluids in the body by keeping an internal chemical balance. Drinking adequate amounts of fluids has a positive outcome in decreasing the risk of developing urinary tract infections and kidney stones. In addition, adequate hydration aids in a healthy cardiovascular system that affects both blood pressure and heart rate. Always consult with your physician, who knows your health needs best.