Our bodies become dehydrated when we lose more water than we take in. Staying hydrated allows the body to regulate temperature through perspiration, maintain blood pressure and eliminate waste. Dehydration may show only small signs outwardly, but it can have dire consequences on the body, especially in the elderly.
Severe dehydration can lead to confusion, impaired cognition, falling, urinary tract infections, constipation, pneumonia, bedsores in bed-ridden patients, and even death. It can accelerate or cause emergency hospitalization and/or increase the length of hospital stays.
Why Dehydration is Common in the Elderly
How to Spot Dehydration
Outward symptoms of dehydration can include confusion, difficulty walking, dizziness or headaches, dry mouth, sunken eyes, inability to sweat or produce tears, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, low urine output and constipation. Urine color should be light and clear; dark urine or infrequency of urination is a common sign of dehydration. You can check for dehydration by pulling up the skin on the back of the hand for a few seconds; if it does not return to normal almost immediately, the person is probably dehydrated.
How to Prevent Dehydration
Not everyone needs to drink eight glasses of water every day. Generally speaking, larger people need to drink more fluids than smaller ones, and it doesn’t have to be just water. Many fruits (especially watermelon), vegetables and soups are mostly water-based. Coffee, tea and flavored waters also count. Some seniors may need to be encouraged to drink even when they’re not thirsty. Include drinks at mealtimes and offer them throughout the day. Keeping a water bottle next to the bed or a favorite chair can help those with mobility problems.
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Jason A. Waddell is a Board Certified Florida Elder Law Attorney who practices on the Panhandle of Florida.