Dehydration in the elderly is a much more serious problem than in any other age group. If left untreated, dehydration can quickly escalate and lead to the onset of other health conditions. With older adults being particularly susceptible to dehydration, it is important to be aware of the signs, symptoms and ways to prevent dehydration from occurring.
By learning more about elderly dehydration, you can help spot the signs and take action to protect your loved ones. Learn about why dehydration in the elderly is such an important issue and pick up tips to help reduce the risks.
What is dehydration?
The body enters into a state of dehydration when its water and electrolyte balance is so inadequate that it stops the body from functioning properly. Simply put, dehydration occurs when you lose more liquid than you take in. Dehydration is a very real health issue and is all the more serious for at-risk individuals such as babies, children and elderly adults.
The number one way to ensure your elderly loved one is not dehydrated is to be aware of the recommended water intake for adults in their age group. For adults, six to eight 200ml glasses of liquid are recommended daily to achieve adequate hydration.
Why is dehydration in the elderly a concern?
Feeling thirsty? If so, chances are that you are already dehydrated. However, the thirst response reduces as we age, giving us even less time to act on dehydration. Adults undergo changes in body composition as they enter their later years, meaning those aged 65 and over retain less fluid than that of a younger person. Therefore, it is all the more important to address dehydration in the elderly than in other age groups.
Dehydration and existing medical conditions
Other risk factors that could lead to dehydration include:
- Side effects from certain medications that expel water from the body. Taking diuretic medications that adjust fluid levels in the body and not drinking enough water can result in poor hydration.
- Elderly people living with neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia are more at risk of dehydration as they can easily lose track of the amount of water they drink in a day.
- Older people with mobility issues or incontinence may try to drink less so that they can take fewer trips to the bathroom. However, in doing this, they run the risk of dehydration.
- Caffeinated drinks, such as tea and coffee, dehydrate the body by acting as a diuretic.
The dangers of dehydration in the elderly
Dehydration in the elderly is such a concerning issue because several potential life threatening illnesses can develop from not drinking enough water. In addition to minor complaints such as constipation, dehydration can cause dizziness, leading to falls. Inadequate fluid levels can also cause urinary tract infections and renal failure.
Furthermore, dehydration is associated with electrolyte imbalances. An imbalance of any sort in the body causes dysfunction. However, an imbalance of the mineral concentrations in the blood can result in cardiac arrhythmias. So, you can see why dehydration in the elderly is an important issue.
Signs and symptoms of elderly dehydration
Spotting the signs and symptoms of elderly dehydration can be a life-saving skill. Knowing the different stages of dehydration can help you gauge what steps to take. If your elderly family member is experiencing severe dehydration or you have any concerns, ensure that you seek prompt medical assistance.
These are the symptoms of mild dehydration to look out for:
- Confusion: any changes to normal behaviour could be related to dehydration
- Dizziness: stumbling or lack of stability
- Headaches: unexplained headaches unrelated to other medical issues
- Dry mouth, tongue and cracked lips
- Dark urine: ideally urine should be a pale yellow colour
- Sunken and dry eyes: inability to produce tears
Serious signs of dehydration include:
- Convulsions: seizures can occur due to severe imbalances in electrolytes
- Painful cramping in stomach and muscle contractions in limbs and back
- Bloated stomach
- Rapid heart rate with a weak pulse
- Respiratory distress: breathing faster than normal
A quick at home skin turgor test can deduce whether your elderly loved one is dehydrated. Simply pinch the skin at the collarbone, hand or abdomen and check how long it takes to bounce back into place. The skin of adequately hydrated adults should return to normal straight away. Mildly dehydrated individuals will show a slow spring back.
However, bear in mind that as we age, the skin’s elasticity lessens and will not return to normal as quickly as a younger person completing the same skin turgor test.
How to prevent dehydration
There are better ways to establish whether an older individual is dehydrated than thirst as an indicator. For example, elderly people often feel less inclined to drink in winter than in summer. Therefore, building healthy habits around staying hydrated is the best way to prevent dehydration.
Check out these healthy hydration tips below:
- Non-caffeinated drinks: caffeine is a diuretic that expels water from the body. Choose decaffeinated alternatives instead.
- Hydration through food: get extra hydration from soups in the winter and juices and smoothies in the summer.
- Fruit and vegetables high in water content: cucumbers and watermelons are a great choice for extra hydration through your 5-a-day.
- Incontinence fears: drink 6-8 glasses of water in the daytime, leaving enough time before bed to empty the bladder fully.
- Medications: speak to the doctor about dehydration and medications, as they will be able to advise further.
- The taste of water: add diluted fruit juice or squash to water to improve the flavour.
- Choices: having access to a selection of fruity drinks and herbal teas will keep things interesting.
- Routines: arrange set times to drink if forgetting to hydrate is an issue.
- Accessibility: make sure drinks are always nearby and use straws or cups with handles if those are easier to drink from.
How live-in care can support health in the elderly
Dehydration is especially concerning for elderly people with restricted mobility who require extra care and support. If just going to the kitchen to get a glass of water is an arduous task, your older loved one might be less inclined to do so and therefore, their hydration levels suffer.
Live-in carers can help spot the signs of dehydration and can intervene to prevent this from occurring. Carers know all the tips and tricks needed to get older people to maintain adequate fluid levels. These professionals can ensure that routines are followed and nutritious meals and hydrating drinks are provided throughout the day.
Live-in carers are there to note any changes in an elderly individual’s well-being. Since the care is one-to-one, carers can focus all their attention on your elderly loved one and ensure they are comfortable with the room temperature and varieties of refreshing drinks on offer. These are all factors that can contribute to an increased risk of dehydration.
For more information on how live-in care can help your elderly family member, simply download our Live-in Care Brochure. Our team of care professionals are also available to talk through your loved one’s care needs and help you determine what’s best for them.
Talk to our team today
At Country Cousins, we carefully vet and recruit the very best live-in care professionals so that you can rest assured that your loved one will be well looked after. Each caregiver is matched with a client based on their health and well-being requirements. We pride ourselves on creating compatible client-to-carer matches by carefully matching preferences and personalities.
Give us a call today on 01293 224 706 to discuss individual care needs and receive a free, no-obligation quotation. Our care team is available to talk 24/7 on our phone lines or complete our online enquiry form.