5 Steps To Keeping Seniors Hydrated

Active Senior Drinks Water

As the summer heats up, the risk of dehydration increases for all of us. However, it is even more critical for the elderly to drink plenty of water. Why? As we age, our sense of thirst declines while our body’s water content decreases. Many seniors also take medication that has a diuretic effect.  At the same time, the kidneys have a reduced ability to concentrate urine and retain water as we age.

These factors — along with decreased mobility, reduced swallowing capacity and the fear of incontinence — combine to make dehydration a big problem for the elderly. In fact, research by the University of Chicago Medical Center reveals that 40 percent of heat-related fatalities in the United States are in people age 65 and over.

The human body is about two-thirds water. Dehydration occurs when you lose or use more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water to perform its regular functions. In severe cases, dehydration can be life-threatening.

Dehydration is a common cause of hospitalization of seniors– one of the 10 most frequent admitting diagnoses for Medicare patients — and it has been associated with the following symptoms or warning signs:

• Confusion

• Drowsiness

• Dizziness

• Headaches

• Dry mouth

• Labored speech

• Sunken eyeballs

• Loss of muscle tone

• Weight loss

• Slow metabolism

• Increased toxicity

• Organ failure

• Urinary tract infection

People feel thirsty when they have already lost around 2-3% of their body’s water. Mental performance and physical condition start to be come impaired before thirst kicks in, typically around 1% dehydration.

The good news is that dehydration is preventable. While the amount of water an adult needs each day varies according to weight and individual body needs, the average person requires about six to eight cups of water a day. Here are some simple steps you can take to help your loved one stay hydrated not only this summer but all year round:

Identify medication that may cause loss of fluids. Check the information sheets that accompany any prescriptions and talk to your physician. Remember to drink more water when using certain over the counter medications, such as stool softeners or laxatives, as well. Many blood pressure medications are diuretics, so you will need to increase your fluid intake to maintain health while taking them.

Consume foods that are rich in fluid. While water is the best source of hydration, there are many other ways to boost fluid intake rather than just by drinking glasses of water.  Add soups, fresh fruits and vegetables, and ice pops to your meals for quick and easy ways to get more fluid. A great choice for tasty summer hydration is watermelon, for instance.

Limit dehydrating beverages. Gradually cut back on serving sizes of dehydrating beverages such as coffee, tea, alcohol and sodas. Replace them with hydrating beverages including water, milk, sports drinks, seltzers, herbal teas and 100% fruit juices.

Have water available throughout the day for frequent sips. It is often hard for many seniors to drink a large glass of water at one sitting. Encourage frequent sipping by having fresh water available by their favorite chair throughout the day and at their bedside during the evening.

Monitor body signs. Body weight is a good way to keep track of hydration levels. Encourage your loved one to step on the bathroom scale each morning.  If she has lost two pounds or more from the day before and has a headache, chances are good she is dehydrated. Mild dehydration involves losing 2 percent of your body weight. Severe dehydration involves a 4 percent or greater loss.

Also encourage your family member to check their urine color on a regular basis. A well-hydrated person’s urine should be light in color. Dark urine color and/or infrequency of urination are signs of dehydration.

Foods High in H2O. Some seniors will refuse to drink more fluids, explaining that they are not thirsty. Here are a few creative options to try rather than just saying, “Have another glass of water”:

• Offer lemonade and talk about the lemonade stand you had when you were a child.

• Serve fruit popsicles or Jell-O as a snack

• Bring watermelon slices, grapes or fresh berries along with you when you visit.

• Add slices of lemon or orange to a pitcher of water to add to its taste.

• Encourage your loved one to eat half a grapefruit or a slice of melon for breakfast.

• Salads contain high water content. Some good choices to include are: cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, celery and iceberg lettuce.

 

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