Dehydration is a concern for people of all ages, but seniors and those with certain chronic illnesses are particularly at-risk, even during the more temperate summer months in Seattle.
Dehydration in seniors is common for several reasons, including a decreased sense of thirst, decreased kidney function, and the use of medications that may be diuretic or cause you to sweat more. Older adult also naturally have less water in their bodies than younger persons. Although dehydration is prevalent among seniors, it can also be a more harmful and serious health issue for this demographic.
How Much Water Should a Senior Drink?
Dehydration occurs when your body loses more water than it takes in, so proper fluid intake is key to preventing dehydration in seniors. Although everyone knows about the “eight glasses of water per day” recommendation, adequate water intake actually depends on your weight, activity level, diet, and other factors. The basic recommended fluid intake for seniors is about 15.5 cups of fluids per day for men and approximately 11.5 cups of fluids per day for women. Fluids, however, includes water, other beverages, and even foods. About 20% of daily fluid intake typically comes from food, and the rest comes from drinks. If your diet as a senior includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, and water-based soups, those are significant sources of fluids. Most experts agree at least 7 cups of your fluid intake should come from water, and it should be consumed slowly and consistently in little sips throughout the day as opposed to all at once.
On especially warm days or if you exercise regularly, your water intake should increase. Certain medical conditions, such as kidney problems and illnesses affecting the lung or bladder, also put you more at risk of dehydration. Additionally, if any medications you take are diuretics or laxatives, check with your doctor about how to offset those side effects and stay hydrated.
What Are Symptoms of Dehydration in Seniors?
While it’s helpful to be conscientious about the amount of water or other fluids you’re consuming, you can also monitor your overall hydration level in other ways. Most dehydration symptoms in the seniors mirror those of other age demographics. Some signs of dehydration in seniors include:
- Low urine output or dark-colored urine
- Dry mouth
- Headache and dizziness
- Inability to produce tears or sweat
- Difficulty walking
- Rapid heart rate
- Muscle cramping
- Low blood pressure
Other signs of dehydration that manifest in younger people, such as dry or wrinkled skin, are not as helpful in identifying dehydration in older loved ones.
Another way for seniors to track dehydration is by weight. Losing about 2% of your body weight in a day is a sign of mild dehydration, while losing 4% or more indicates severe dehydration. If your older parent has cardiac issues or has suffered from dehydration in the past, doing a daily weight check is a way to help monitor their hydration level.
If you or your loved one is residing within a senior living community that offers assisted living or respite care, ask the staff if there is a hydration program to assist residents with staying hydrated. That may include providing drinks between mealtimes, offering a variety of beverages, assessing physical and mental changes that could indicate dehydration, and monitoring weight. Make sure to keep a water bottle next to your bed or favorite sitting area, especially if you struggle with mobility. Also, keep in mind your sense of thirst tends to decrease as you age, so you need to regularly take sips of water even when you don’t necessarily feel thirsty.
When Should You Go to the Hospital for Dehydration?
Dehydration is one of the leading causes of hospitalization among seniors. Even mild dehydration negatively affects your health, but if dehydration is severe enough it may lead to pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTI), confusion, weakness, and even death.
If you suspect your or a loved one are already mildly dehydrated, you can usually reverse the condition by resting and drinking additional fluids, especially something with electrolytes to help replenish your body’s nutrients. Some electrolyte drinks that are suitable for seniors include sports drinks, such as Gatorade; a commercial rehydration solution; juice; or even clear broths. If dehydration is a common occurrence or a chronic condition, discuss it with your primary care physician during a regular checkup.
You should seek immediate medical treatment at an urgent care facility or emergency room if your or loved one:
- Is unable to keep down fluids
- Has bloody or black stool
- Has had diarrhea for 24 hours or more
- Is much sleepier or less active than usual
- Is abnormally irritable or disoriented
If you have other health problems that exacerbate the effects of dehydration or are in question about the severity of the condition, contact a medical professional, as it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Water-Rich Foods that Help Reduce Dehydration in Seniors
If you want to add water-rich foods to your diet, try incorporating more of these fruits and veggies into your diet.
1. Hydrate with Cucumbers
Cucumbers have the highest water content of any solid food - they’re 96.7% water! Cucumbers are great in cucumber sandwiches, or sliced up into sticks and dipped in dressing.
2. Hydrate with Iceberg Lettuce
The name might have given you a clue, but iceberg lettuce is also more than 90% water. Iceberg makes a great base for all kinds of salads; try it with your favorite toppings and dressing.
3. Hydrate with Watermelon
Watermelon is a delicious summertime treat with a very high water content. It’s the perfect thing to eat at Fourth of July celebrations and special occasions all summer long.
4. Hydrate with Spinach
Spinach is 91.4% water, and, to make it even better, it has lots of other nutritional benefits. If you eat one serving of spinach in a salad, you’ve gotten 23% of your daily value of vitamin C, and 17% of your daily fiber. Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse.
5. Hydrate with Broccoli
Broccoli is another green vegetable that is hydrating and packs a nutritional punch. It’s 90% water and has lots of fiber, vitamin A, and potassium. Broccoli salad is a staple of summertime dinners and it’s so delicious you’ll forget it’s good for you!
Making Senior Health a Priority
If you or an aging parent are choosing a long-term senior living community in Seattle, it’s important to find a place that prioritizes the physical, mental, and emotional well being of residents and has a staff that knows what health problems are common among seniors. Daystar Retirement Village in West Seattle includes independent living and 55-plus apartments for healthy, active adults, as well as assisted living and respite care for those who require a little more care and attention later in life.