Dehydration in older adults: 5 reasons why the elderly are at a greater risk

Anyone can get dehydrated, but the elderly may be more susceptible to dehydration. Find out the the common causes of dehydration in older adults.
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Watch out for signs of dehydration in older adults. Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 26 May 2024, 08:59 am IST
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Dehydration in the scorching summer can be an age-agnostic health problem, but there is a higher risk of dehydration in older adults due to natural changes in the body as they age. Whether you are on the younger or older side, drinking about eight glasses of water in a day is important to help in regulating the body temperature, lubricating joints and maintaining overall health. But if sufficient water is not consumed, there can be problems. Know the causes of dehydration in older adults and how to help them.

What is dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in, leading to an insufficient amount of water and other fluids necessary for normal bodily functions, says internal medicine expert Dr Shuchin Bajaj. Dehydration can result from not drinking enough water, losing too much water, or a combination of both.

An elderly woman with dehydration problem
Dehydration is a common problem in older adults. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What are the symptoms of dehydration?

Here are some of the symptoms of dehydration:

  • Thirst
  • Dry mouth and dry skin
  • Decreased urine output or dark-coloured urine
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Confusion or cognitive impairment
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sunken eyes

Why is dehydration more common in elderly?

When the temperature is really high, it increases your risk of getting dehydrated. It is, however, worth noting, that is not just the season or the temperature outside that can cause dehydration. Older adults are 20 to 30 percent more prone to be dehydrated due to impaired thirst mechanism, immobility, diabetes, and kidney disease, according to a research published in StatPearls in 2022.

Here are some factors:

1. Decreased thirst sensation

As people age, their sense of thirst diminishes. This means they might not feel thirsty even when their body needs fluids for proper functioning of the body. This can lead to inadequate fluid intake.

2. Reduced kidney function

Ageing can affect kidney function, making the organs less efficient at conserving water. This means people, especially aged 60 and above, may lose more water while peeing, says the expert.

3. Chronic illnesses

Many older adults have chronic illnesses such as diabetes, kidney disease, or heart disease. These health conditions can affect fluid balance and increase the risk of dehydration.

4. Medications

Older adults often take medications that can cause increased urination. These include:

  • Diuretics, often prescribed for conditions like hypertension and heart failure, increase urine production, leading to fluid loss.
  • Used to treat constipation, laxatives can lead to excessive fluid loss through the stool.
  • Antihypertensives, which are blood pressure medications, can cause increased urination.
  • Certain antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants, can have diuretic effects, leading to reduced fluid intake.
  • Antipsychotics can cause dry mouth, making it uncomfortable to drink fluids regularly.

5. Mobility issues

Physical limitations and mobility issues can make it difficult for older adults to access fluids regularly. They might also have difficulty getting to the bathroom, which can make them limit fluid intake to avoid frequent trips to the washroom.

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Fruit juices to prevent dehydration in older adults
Prepare juices to prevent dehydration in older adults. Image courtesy: Freepik

How to treat dehydration in older adults?

Treatment of dehydration in older adults involves the following steps:

1. Increase fluid intake

Encourage them to consume more water. If water is too plain for them, offer them other hydrating fluids like herbal teas, vegetable or chicken broths, and oral rehydration solutions, says the expert.

2. Monitor and adjust medications

Older adults may be having prescribed medications for various health conditions. Review those medications with a doctor to adjust dosages or switch to alternatives that have a lower risk of causing dehydration.

3. Use hydrating foods

Incorporate foods with high water content, such as fruits (watermelon, and oranges) and vegetables (cucumbers, and lettuce), into the diet. Also, put less salt in their food. If they eat a high-sodium diet without increasing their fluid intake, they can be at a risk of being dehydrated.

4. Intravenous fluids

If these steps don’t work, you need to reach out to a doctor. In severe cases, doctor may administer intravenous fluids to quickly replenish fluid levels, says Dr Bajaj.

How to prevent dehydration in older adults?

Preventing dehydration in older adults can be managed through the following strategies:

  • Set reminders or schedules for drinking fluids throughout the day, even if they don’t feel thirsty.
  • Give them more options in hydrating beverages like water, milk, and low-sugar juices to make drinking healthy beverages more appealing.
  • Ensure easy access to fluids by keeping water within their reach.
  • Encourage a diet rich in hydrating foods.

Dehydration can affect anybody, but it may impact the seniors more. Let them drink healthy beverages more often and eat hydrating foods to prevent dehydration in older adults.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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