Dehydration Poses Serious Problems for the Elderly
Water makes up about 50-60% of the human body. It is essential for blood flow, heart function, organ function, brain function, and waste removal. When people fail to drink enough water, they may experience muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, heart palpitations, and lightheadedness. For elderly people, dehydration poses even greater risks, increasing their chance of falling and exacerbating dementia-related confusion. Unlike younger people, seniors may not experience normal thirst, meaning they don’t always recognize when their bodies need more water. In addition, anxiety about incontinence issues, decreased mobility, and forgetfulness may prevent older people from getting enough water.
3 Risks Seniors Face When They Become Dehydrated
Dehydration is a serious condition, and for elderly people the risks become even greater. Because dehydration can complicate other health issues seniors already face, it’s especially important that caregivers make sure they drink enough water each day. When elderly people become dehydrated, they face increased risks, including:
- Confusion–Dehydration negatively impacts brain function. People who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may experience an increase in confusion and forgetfulness associated with these conditions. While water can’t cure dementia, it can help prevent further brain deterioration due to preventable causes.
- Heart Disease–Because water is a primary component of blood, dehydration can cause an increased risk of heart attack, especially in people who already have heart disease. People over 50 need to take extra precautions to ensure that they drink enough water to keep their hearts functioning.
- Increased Risk of Falls–Dehydration can cause lightheadedness, especially when a person stands up. Because elderly people are more likely to experience an injury when they fall and may already have difficulty maintaining balance, staying hydrated can play an important role in preventing injury due to muscle weakness or dizziness.
Seniors may also experience increased risks associated with diabetes, kidney problems, and low blood pressure when they fail to drink enough water.
Dehydration Incidence Among the Elderly
Just how big of a problem is dehydration among elderly people? One study reported that 25% of elderly people living at home without a full-time caregiver did not get enough water to drink. Another reported that 6.7% of Medicare hospitalizations among elderly people listed dehydration as one of the diagnoses. Dehydration can also increase incidence of mortality, especially among elderly people. Nursing home residents may face an increased risk of dehydration if the facility is understaffed or if nurses rely on patients to indicate when they are thirsty and want to drink. Choosing an in-home caregiver for your elderly loved one may be the best way to prevent dehydration, because that caregiver can keep a close eye on water intake, encourage the patient to drink small amounts even if he or she doesn’t feel thirsty, and offer assistance with getting to the bathroom in time to reduce anxiety.
Warning Signs of Dehydration
Dehydration may not always be a result of insufficient water intake. It can also be a side affect of certain medications, illnesses, and excessive sweating. Warning signs of dehydration include:
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle cramps
- Heart palpitations
These symptoms can soon lead to more serious illnesses if dehydration is not addressed immediately. An in-home caregiver can help keep a close eye on your elderly loved one’s daily water intake, and can encourage him or her to drink water even if there is no experience of thirst. Caregivers can also help alleviate seniors’ concerns about incontinence issues and mobility problems, which may cause them to drink less water. By taking steps to make sure elderly people drink the recommended amount of water each day, family members can ensure better quality of life and health for loved ones in their golden years.