Drying Up: Elderly Chronic Dehydration

senior woman drinking by poolDehydration means that the body is giving out more fluid than it is taking in. As we age, our thirst signals work slower, making it harder for seniors to realize they need to drink. Coupled with the fact that their kidneys have a harder time retaining fluid, seniors are more prone to chronic dehydration.

Other causes of chronic dehydration in seniors include:

  • Medications: They may be on medications that are diuretic, which means they cause the body to release more water and salt in the urine.
  • Mobility: They may have a harder time getting up to get a drink.
  • Forgetfulness: Seniors, especially with dementia, may forget to drink.
  • Continence Difficulties: Seniors with incontinence may intentionally limit fluid intake.

What are the Signs and Effects of Dehydration?

It can be easy to miss the symptoms in the early stages, so don’t ignore anything that may be a sign of dehydration. If you notice symptoms of dehydration in your loved one, give them something to drink right away. You can usually reverse mild to moderate dehydration by taking in more fluids. If it’s more severe, get medical help immediately.

Here are some things to look out for:

  • Dark urine
  • Less frequent use of the bathroom
  • Extreme confusion
  • Low blood pressure
  • High heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Dry mouth or skin
  • Weight loss
  • Cramps
  • Sunken eyes
  • Excessive diarrhea
  • Dark or bloody stool

Dehydration can affect the way the body metabolizes medications, thereby reducing their effectiveness. It can also cause kidney stones, UTIs, or even kidney failure. Loss of electrolytes due to dehydration can trigger seizures or loss of consciousness.

One of the most serious complications of dehydration is hypovolemic shock. This is caused by a reduction in blood volume, which triggers a drop in blood pressure and oxygen saturation. This complication can be life-threatening.

Stay Hydrated

The main defense against dehydration is to stay hydrated. Here are some ways to get fluids into your loved one battling chronic dehydration:

  • Regularly offer beverages he or she likes
  • Offer sports drinks to replenish electrolytes
  • Make sure water is within his reach all day so he doesn’t have to ask for it
  • Get her a cup with handles or a straw to make drinking easier
  • Offer smaller drinks more frequently so it’s not overwhelming to finish a serving
  • Reduce caffeinated or sugary beverages — too much of either can actually increase dehydration

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