Our bodies undergo a series of changes as we age, including how we process water. Because we may often fail to recognize our bodies’ changing needs, we can develop an increased risk for dehydration as we age.
It’s especially important for older adults and their loved ones to learn to recognize the symptoms of dehydration. In this guide, we carefully outline the common signs of dehydration in older adults, and we offer seven tips to help prevent dehydration.
What are the first signs of dehydration in seniors?
Dehydration isn’t always easy to spot, but here are a few signs to look for:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Drop in blood pressure
- Skin that won’t bounce immediately back into place after pulling or pinching
- Trouble urinating or urine that is dark in color
- Irritability or changes in mood
- Sunken eyes
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Dry, cool skin
- Muscle cramps
- Rapid heartbeat
- Inability to sweat or produce tears
- Loss of balance
7 tips for seniors to avoid dehydration
There are a few things seniors, their caregivers and loved ones can do to help prevent dehydration:
- A glass of water is hardly the only source of fluids. Be sure to eat vegetables such as celery, cucumbers and tomatoes that are high in water content. You can also eat fruits such as grapefruit, watermelon, strawberries and cantaloupe.
- Keep a large pitcher or thermos full of fluid next to your favorite chair. The larger the container, the fewer times you’ll have to get up to refill it. You can also keep multiple bottles of water handy at various locations around the house.
- Treat yourself to popsicles, milkshakes and smoothies, which are all tasty ways to get the fluids you need.
- Eat spicy foods as a way to make yourself thirsty without becoming dehydrated.
- Limit the amount of sodium you consume, as sodium leads to a loss of fluids. Certain condiments, frozen and processed foods, hot dogs and canned foods can all be high in sodium.
- Avoid consuming an excess of coffee, tea and alcohol, as these fluids have a diuretic effect and can cause an increase in urination.
- Don’t skip meals. Skipping a meal often means falling behind on your daily hydration.
Why do seniors get dehydrated more quickly?
There are a few different changes in the body that can make older adults more susceptible to dehydration, such as:
- Decreased water in the body due to muscle loss
As we age, we lose muscle mass and gain more fat cells. Muscle holds more water than fat, so this tradeoff means our bodies don’t store water as efficiently as they did when we were younger.
- Decline in kidney function
Our kidneys begin to lose their ability to remove toxins from the blood as we age. When our kidneys function less efficiently, we can end up producing urine more quickly and therefore releasing increased amounts of water.
- Reduced thirst
Just as our appetite shrinks as we age, so too does our sensation for thirst. Seniors can sometimes fall victim to dehydration simply because they don’t feel thirsty, even though their bodies still need just as much water.
Some medications can have side effects that include more frequent urination or perspiration, or even a loss of appetite. All of these symptoms can lead to dehydration.
An illness that includes vomiting, diarrhea or increased perspiration can quickly lead to dehydration.
- Mobility challenges
If a senior adult no longer gets around very well on their own, it may be a struggle just to make a trip to the kitchen for a drink of water.
What are the risks and consequences of dehydration?
Older adults are at a greater risk of medical issues as a result of dehydration. Some of the serious consequences of dehydration can include:
- Heat-related injury or illness
If you fail to replenish your body with water when you sweat from heat or exertion, you can develop painful cramps, heat exhaustion or heatstroke. And it doesn’t necessarily take vigorous exercise for a heat-related injury or illness to occur, especially if you sweat heavily on a hot day.
Electrolytes help transfer electrical signals from cell to cell in our body. As we become dehydrated, our bodies lose the ability for these necessary processes to occur, which can lead to involuntary muscle contractions and seizures.
- Low blood volume shock
Hypovolemic shock is a potentially fatal condition that happens when dehydration leads to a drop in blood pressure and a decrease in the amount of oxygen in the body. Hypovolemic shock can lead to organ failure if not treated quickly.
- Kidney failure
When you become dehydrated, your kidneys lose their ability to remove excess fluids and waste from your blood. This can lead to a range of complications, including kidney stones and permanent kidney damage.
- Swelling of the brain
Once you replenish your body with fluids after being dehydrated, your body can sometimes try to pull too much water back into your cells at once. This can cause some of those cells to swell and rupture. At times, the affected cells can be in the brain. This can lead to brain swelling, called cerebral edema.
When not recognized and promptly treated, severe dehydration can lead to a loss of consciousness, coma and even death.
Know the signs and symptoms of dehydration, and follow the tips above to stay healthy and hydrated all day, every day.
Certain Medicare Advantage plans cover home meal delivery
As mentioned above, eating the right vegetables and fruits can help you stay hydrated in addition to the fluids you drink.
Did you know that some Medicare Advantage plans (Medicare Part C) cover benefits like home meal delivery and nutritious food options?
Find a Medicare Advantage plan that supports your healthy lifestyle
Or call 1-800-557-6059 (TTY: 711) 24/7 to speak with a licensed insurance agent.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not healthcare advice. Speak to your doctor or healthcare provider about your specific healthcare needs.