Our nation’s elderly are some of its most vulnerable citizens. As we age, we become more likely to suffer negative consequences from routine illness and incur injury from seemingly minor accidents. Elderly people are also more likely to become dehydrated, which can lead to life-threatening conditions.
Dehydration occurs when someone loses more water than they take in. We need adequate fluid intake to regulate our body temperature, maintain blood pressure, and effectively eliminate waste. Over time, dehydration can lead to mental confusion, urinary tract infections (UTI), weakness, bedsores, or pneumonia.
Dehydration in the elderly is common for a few reasons, including:
- Certain medications may have a diuretic effect, and some may cause excessive sweating.
- Decreased sensation. As we age, our sensation becomes less acute, and that includes our sense of thirst. The elderly may become more dehydrated simply because they don’t feel thirsty, and it’s harder for them to get up for water when they do.
- Kidney function. Kidneys help conserve fluid and flush waste products out of the body, but as we age, they become less efficient in this process.
- Vomiting and diarrhea. When elderly people fall ill, they are more likely to become severely dehydrated from vomiting and diarrhea.
Know the Signs of Elderly Dehydration
If a loved one is susceptible to dehydration because of the preceding factors, it’s essential to recognize the symptoms. Signs of dehydration in the elderly include:
- Difficulty walking
- Mental confusion
- Complaints of dizziness or headaches
- Low blood pressure
- Decreased urine output
- Complaints of constipation
- Dry mouth
- Inability to produce tears and/or sweat
- Sunken eyes
- Complaints of a racing heart beat
If you suspect a loved one is dehydrated, perform a simple test: pinch and pull up on the skin on the back of their hand for a moment, and release. If it doesn’t return to place immediately, it’s a sign of dehydration. This is called a “decrease in skin turgor,” and may be indicative of a serious condition.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent dehydration in your loved one. If they live alone or with you, be sure they are consuming enough water and water-containing foods each day. Examples include soups and broths, fruits, and vegetables. Have them check their urine output – it should be light in color, as dark urination could signal dehydration. Finally, encourage them to keep a water bottle next to their bed or by a favorite spot in the house, especially if mobility is an issue.
In a nursing home setting, keep the lines of communication open with the staff. Ask how they ensure proper hydration in their residents and keep an eye out for any telltale signs of dehydration. If you suspect negligence, be sure to speak with a Kansas City nursing home abuse lawyer to learn more about potentially taking legal action.
Dehydration can be life threatening in the elderly, but it’s also preventable. Know the signs of dehydration and react quickly. Small changes, like keeping water accessible and educating your senior, can help reduce their risk of suffering negative consequences from inadequate fluid intake.
Like most medical conditions, the most effective treatment for dehydration is prevention. Give these tips to your loved one and help them recognize the signs.