As aging sets in, an elderly person becomes prone to dehydration because of changing thirst perceptions, loss of renal concentration and failing vasopressin effectiveness (Lavizzo-Mourey, 1987). There are several side effects of dehydration, including infection, seizures, kidney failure, brain inflammation and coma or at worse, death. Thus, prevention of dehydration among the elderly is critical.
Why Hydration is Important
Water has an important role in the life of humans. It acts as a carrier of nutrients helping distribute them properly throughout the body. It assists in the lubrication of joints and tissues around the mouth, eyes & nose, prevents constipation and flushes out waste products through the liver and kidneys. Hence, keeping water balance in the body is vital to avoid dehydration.
How Dehydration Among Seniors Occur
Unfortunately, dehydration is common among seniors because as aging occurs, the thirst center does not work well compared to a younger adult. Consequently, an elderly person may not feel that he/she is becoming dehydrated. Certain medical conditions such as diabetes also affect higher rates of urine excretion causing dehydration. Other causes include excessive sweating, diarrhea and vomiting.
Dehydration at first may cause the person to drink more fluids, but if the body cannot cope with the loss of water, the condition worsens. The person sweats less and discharges less urine. Tissues are parched and body cells shrink and malfunction. As a result, the victim will become confused. Other signs include irritability, low blood pressure and delirium. Kidney failure or seizures can occur. Severe dehydration can cause coma or death.
Ways to Combat Dehydration
If seniors are living by themselves, it is a good idea to keep an eye on them whether it is a family member visiting/calling regularly or scheduled home visits from medical staff to ensure they are drinking adequate amounts of water.
Encourage Drinking of Water and Other Fluids
For a long time, the rule of thumb was to drink 8 glasses of 8 oz. of water. However, this was refuted in the 2002 study by Valtin suggesting that drinking water when thirsty is enough to keep hydrated. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine concurred with these findings, but made exceptions to those living in warmer places and with existing medical conditions. Therefore, a good baseline would be to ensure that seniors drink five 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
Introduce A Variety of Beverages
If elderly people have difficulty in drinking water, then different beverages can be kept nearby such as flavored water, juices or milk. Alcohol and coffee should be avoided as they have a diuretic function which can lead to more water loss. Alkaline drinks such as Alkalife may also be consumed which can boost energy and promote good blood circulation.
Complement with Food
Eating nutritionally-balanced meals will help in hydration. Fruits (watermelons, strawberries, cantaloupes and peaches) and vegetables (broccoli, carrots and white potatoes) have high water content that can help a senior meet water intake needs in a day in addition to soups and stews.