Dehydration in Older Adults: Signs, Symptoms, Solutions

older adult drinking to prevent dehydrationSummer brings lots of sunshine, bright blue skies, trips to the beach – and a higher risk of dehydration. While dehydration is a problem for everyone at any age, dehydration in older adults is an especially risky business.

What is Dehydration?

Dehydration means that your body is losing more fluid than it’s taking in. As a result, it can’t function properly. Think about your car. If any of the fluids it needs to function – gas, coolant, oil – goes below a certain level, there’s a limit to how long your car is going to keep, well, going.

Our bodies are no different. In order for us to think clearly, digest properly, do everything we do every day, our bodies need hydration.

Why is Dehydration in Older Adults a Risk?

As we age, the mechanisms in our body slow down. Our thirst signals are reduced. Prescription medications for issues like high blood pressure and diabetes are often diuretic medications, which cause the body to lose fluids. As a matter of fact, a joint study by researchers in England and Canada showed that 46% of adults in residential care were either suffering from active dehydration or at very high risk for it.

Besides thirst, other signs an older adult might be dehydrated include:

  • Dizziness
  • Exhaustion
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Low systolic blood pressure
  • Confusion (or, in the case of an older adult suffering from dementia, more intense confusion than usual)
  • Dry mouth

Keep an eye out for these signs, because dehydration can cause loss of consciousness, lowered blood pressure and a weak pulse. Untreated, dehydration can become very dangerous.

What to Do

Whether your loved one is living at home or in a skilled nursing facility, there’s a lot you can do to make sure they’re receiving the amount of fluid they need.

First of all, make sure that they have easy, 24/7 access to water. If they’re one of many Americans who say they can’t drink water, then make sure they have easy access to something else they can drink. Alternatively, see if they enjoy flavored water, or a slice of lemon or lime in their glass.

If drinking a lot at once is difficult, no problem. Get your loved one a smaller glass and encourage them to drink less but more often. Another idea is to see if using a straw makes things easier for them.

Don’t forget that soup is liquid, too. When you come to visit, bring along a container of soup from their favorite restaurant, or make an old favorite of theirs at home.

If You See Dehydration, Say Something

If despite all your efforts you see that your loved one is showing some signs of dehydration, don’t wait. Inform the staff at your loved one’s residence, or call their primary physician. Don’t worry about false alarms; when it comes to dehydration in older adults, better to err on the side of caution.