Healthy Aging

Preventing Dehydration in Older Adults

Dehydration, a state that occurs when the body doesn’t have enough water to function normally, is one of the most common health conditions older adults experience.

As adults age, sensation of thirst decreases and the kidneys’ ability to retain water lessens; this makes older adults more prone to dehydration. Other common conditions that may cause dehydration in older adults include exposure to extreme summertime heat, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, uncontrolled diabetes, dementia, incontinence, and taking medications such as laxatives or diuretics. Drinking plenty of fluids can relieve mild dehydration, but, in the case of severe symptoms, patients need to seek medical treatment.1

Recognizing Dehydration
It’s important for RDs and medical professionals (as well as members of the lay public who interact with and/or care for older adults) to recognize dehydration symptoms so they know when to step in or seek medical attention. Common signs of dehydration include the following:

  • increased thirst;
  • constipation;
  • confusion;
  • fatigue;
  • dark-colored urine;
  • dizziness; and
  • falls.

Professionals must be ready to act when they notice these symptoms, as the consequences of dehydration can be serious, especially for older adults. Complications due to dehydration may include heat exhaustion, heat stroke, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, seizures, or shock.2

Prevention Strategies
If an older patient has heart or kidney disease, they should follow their physician’s recommendation for daily fluid intake. Otherwise, healthy older adults should aim for at least 1.5 L, or six glasses, of water each day.1 Besides water, they should eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables because they’re a good source of water and will help them maintain hydration. Watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, grapefruit, and broccoli are just a few examples of fresh fruits and vegetables that are 90% water or more.3

I recommend my older patients drink at least 8 oz of water before eating breakfast or having a cup of coffee. Water ensures a refreshing, energizing, and healthful start to the day that also can prevent life-threatening dehydration.

— Helen Agresti, RD, is founder of Professional Nutrition Consulting, LLC, based in Pennsylvania. Through her private practice, she provides personal nutrition coaching (in person and via e-mail and FaceTime), cooking demos, “lunch and learns,” and corporate wellness presentations. Helen also is a nutrition consultant at Penn State University and a certified Pilates instructor. You can find Helen’s healthful recipes and nutrition advice on various online publications include the Huffington Post’s Healthy Living section and HealthYourWay.

References

  1. Hydration and the elderly. Hydration for Health Initiative website. http://www.h4hinitiative.com/everyday-hydration/how-your-needs-change-over-time/hydration-and-elderly
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. Dehydration: symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic website. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/symptoms-causes/dxc-20261072. Updated October 29, 2016.
  3. Wellington C. Stay hydrated with high water content foods. Active website. http://www.active.com/nutrition/articles/stay-hydrated-with-high-water-content-foods

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