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The Importance of Staying Hydrated

Posted by Constance Schein, RN
on February 28, 2020
glass of water

Pour yourself a tall glass of water to sip while you read this hot topic for seniors on dehydration. The definition of dehydration is that you lose more fluid than you take in. Many of us believe dehydration is prevented by our body’s natural sense of thirst to remind us to pour ourselves a glass of H2O. But the fact is, as your loved one gets older, their sense of thirst will diminish significantly. And if they have dementia, they may not remember to drink liquids throughout the day. All caregivers should be aware of dehydration concerns and take preventive measures when caring for a loved one.

Hydration is vital because it keeps electrolytes balanced, blood volume normal, aids in digestion, transportation of nutrients, and kidney functioning. And if your elderly loved one becomes dehydrated, they have the added risk of mental confusion. It is recommended that adult men drink about ten cups of water per day (2500 ml), and women should drink roughly eight cups (2000 ml) per day.

Signs of dehydration to look for in older adults:

  • Dry skin or cracked lips
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Mobility difficulty
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Inability to sweat or produce tears
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low blood pressure

5 reasons seniors needs H2O:

As we age, several physiological changes can put seniors at a higher risk of dehydration, such as increased fluid loss, reduced body water content, and a decrease in fluid consumption. Let’s look at these closer:

1. Decreased Thirst. It’s a fact that we lose our sense of thirst with age. While you may feel parched and reach for the nearest water bottle, our older loved ones may not notice their need for hydration. Ensuring that your loved one is keeping up with their daily water or fluid intake will help prevent a major medical emergency.

2. Kidney Function. Our kidneys are responsible for filtering out blood by removing waste, controlling the body’s fluid balance, and keeping electrolytes at the right levels. Kidney function can diminish as we age, leading to a decrease in the body’s ability to create urine or remove waste. Staying fully hydrated helps to keep kidneys functioning to the best of their ability.

3. Brain Power. Dehydration symptoms in seniors can mimic signs of dementia. Why is that? Because dehydration is just as critical for brain function as it is for body function. Cognitive function is enhanced when brain cells get the proper amount of hydration.

4. Urinary Incontinence. It is uncomfortable and frustrating. Some seniors avoid drinking to avoid the experience, which can lead to other health risks. Reduction in fluids can cause urinary tract infections, which can cause pain and sometimes dementia-like confusion.

5 Digestion. Dehydration can cause constipation. Staying hydrated and consuming the proper amount of fiber helps seniors stay regular. Lack of water can lead to gastritis, acid reflux, and in some cases, ulcers, as the stomach doesn’t have enough water to produce digestive acid. Research has shown that drinking water can help limit acid reflux symptoms by temporarily raising the stomach pH.

How Dehydration and Alzheimer’s Affects the Brain?

You may be surprised to learn that about three-fourths of the brain is made up of water, and the organ requires an ample supply of liquid to work at peak capacity. Gray matter actually shrinks when the body is dehydrated. And consistent dehydration can cause the brain to age quicker than normal. It’s a growing concern among older adults in general. Government research shows that dehydration is one of the primary reasons people age 65 and older are sent to the emergency room.

For a person who has trouble remembering or often feels disoriented, even mild dehydration can be detrimental to their health and quality of life. A lack of water can aggravate symptoms of dementia, causing mental fatigue, sudden changes in mood, confusion, and trouble processing information. They can also experience feelings of nausea, loss of balance, and headaches. In severe cases, dehydration can lead to heatstroke and even unconsciousness.

On the other hand, a well-hydrated brain can enhance concentration, memory function maintenance, mood balance, and even better sleep quality. Water is also essential for heart health and muscle-joint function, which are necessary to stay physically active to keep the brain oxygenated and sharp.

Unfortunately, people with dementia are at a heightened risk of becoming dehydrated. They often simply forget to drink. Some have trouble communicating what they need to their caregivers. Additionally, certain medications can decrease the body’s hydration.

How Can I Help My Loved One Stay Hydrated?

Prevention is the key to avoiding dehydration in your elderly loved one. You might assume that your sedentary parent or loved one consumes more water than they could possibly lose in a day. But that is simply not the case. Dehydration is common in seniors, regardless if they use a wheelchair or are up and moving on their own.

Here are a few helpful tips to keep your loved one fully hydrated:

  • What do they like? Provide your elderly loved one with plenty of fluids throughout the day that appeal to them. These can include flavored water, plain water, juices, or smoothies. And even coffee and tea are largely made up of water (although some have caffeine), but they can help hydrate to some degree. Especially during the warmer months, encourage them to drink small quantities more often throughout the day.
  • Fruits & Veggies. Fruits and vegetables are a terrific way to sneak in some added water. Cucumbers, watermelons, grapefruit, strawberries, celery, pineapple, kale, lettuce, grapes, and tomatoes are great options. Vegetable broth or soups are great with a meal or as a snack to replenish their hydration.
  • Create Opportunity. Try to strategically place a water bottle or cup next to their bed or favorite chair to remind them to drink liquids. Assist seniors throughout the day who cannot drink independently. And when you leave the house together, remember to bring with you a bottle of water or juice for your elderly loved one to sip.
  • Set a Timer. If your loved one has dementia you should monitor them closely. You may need to remind them to drink throughout the day and track their consumption. Setting a timer during the day works as an excellent reminder for both you and them.
  • Create an Activity. Make an occasion out of drinking with an afternoon tea service, iced drinks on an outdoor patio, or warm beverages on a chilly day. Try adding fresh fruit to flavor plain water or blend a mocktail or smoothie and add a paper umbrella and fresh fruit for fun!
  • Senior Living. If your parent or loved one lives in an assisted living community, make sure the community has a hydration program in place. At Aegis Living, we provide a hydration station in each community with flavored waters to quench a resident’s thirst. We provide afternoon smoothies as a tasty way for our residents to make sure they are drinking a healthy amount of liquids. Coffee, tea, and beverages are always available to our residents and staff. And we keep an extra close eye on our residents during the warmer months and residents with memory loss who may forget to drink enough water.

If you are worried about your loved one’s health, staying hydrated, and living on their own, maybe it’s time to consider a move to an Aegis Living community. Your loved one’s health and safety is our top priority. Find a community near you to schedule a tour and see the level of care we provide our residents for yourself.

Profile image of Constance Schein, RN

Constance Schein, RN

Former Senior Vice President of Clinical and Health Services

Constance Schein is a registered nurse with more than 25 years of nursing experience in senior-focused healthcare organizations. She led Aegis Living’s major nursing and care initiatives and was responsible for managing and developing healthcare partnerships, technology, and wellness programs to improve resident care.

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