Proper hydration is essential for maintaining good health and well-being, especially for older adults. As we age, our bodies ability to regulate water balance declines, which can lead to dehydration and a host of associated health issues. Additionally, many older adults may experience decreased thirst sensation, making it easier to become dehydrated without even realizing it.
Therefore, understanding the role of hydration in senior health is critical for promoting healthy aging and maintaining optimal functioning. In this context, it is important to explore the factors that affect older adults’ hydration status and identify practical strategies to ensure that they get enough fluids to support their well-being.
The Impact Of Aging On Hydration
As we get older, our bodies undergo various physiological changes that can affect our hydration status. For instance, our bodies’ water decreases with age, and our kidneys’ ability to conserve water declines.
A study from The Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging states that older adults may have a decreased thirst sensation, making it harder to recognize when dehydrated. As a result, older adults are more prone to dehydration than younger adults, which can lead to a range of health issues.
Additionally, a study from the Journal of Physiology found that people need to drink more water as they age to compensate for changes in their body temperature regulation.
Hence, hydration becomes even more important as we age to avoid dehydration and keep our bodies healthy.
Dehydration In Older Adults: The Signs and Risks
Dehydration is a condition that can be dangerous if not enough fluids are consumed to meet the body’s requirements.
This can result in various health problems, ranging from mild to severe, such as urinary tract infections, heart complications, kidney failure, blood clot complications, and heat stroke. Due to the effect on the health of cells, dehydration can also decrease the body’s ability to fight infections and recover from injury or illness.
Some common signs of dehydration in older adults include;
- Dark-colored urine, urinating less frequently
- Fatigue, or feeling weak
- Muscle cramps in arms or legs
- Dry mouth
- Confusion decreases cognitive function
The tiredness and lack of coordination resulting from dehydration can also lead to falls and injury. Also, if left untreated, chronic dehydration can lead to serious health problems such as
- urinary and kidney problems, including urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and even kidney failure
- seizures due to low levels of potassium and sodium
- heat exhaustion or heatstroke
- Hypovolemic shock is a life-threatening complication that causes blood pressure and oxygen levels to drop due to low blood volume.
Therefore, it is essential to recognize the signs and risks of dehydration in older adults and take steps to prevent it.
Hydration: Why Is It Important In Older People’s Health?
Staying hydrated is crucial for everyone, but it becomes especially important for older people as they age.
Although staying hydrated is something that people often neglect as part of their diet, it does many wonderful things to human bodies, which keep them functioning at their best.
Below are some of the importance of ensuring your body receives proper hydration.
- Kidney Function
Prolonged and severe dehydration can damage the kidneys, which are responsible for removing waste from the blood through urine and maintaining a proper balance of electrolytes and salts. When the kidneys are compromised or fail, toxins build up in the blood, and fluids accumulate in the body, leading to swelling and potentially severe illness or death.
- Urinary Incontinence
Although it may seem counterintuitive, avoiding fluids to prevent embarrassing moments from incontinence can worsen the problem. Dehydration can lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs), a common issue among older adults that, if left untreated, can cause kidney damage and sepsis.
If you experience urinary incontinence, it’s important to stay hydrated despite any discomfort or embarrassment, and you should speak with your doctor about possible treatment options.
Adequate hydration is crucial to maintaining regular and healthy digestive function. Dehydration can lead to constipation, gastritis, acid reflux, and sometimes, ulcers. Drinking water is important for producing digestive acid, which aids in breaking down food. More water intake can lead to better nutrient absorption from food.
- Brain Function
The human brain is composed of 80% water, and even mild dehydration can negatively impact cognitive function, resulting in confusion and forgetfulness. Prolonged dehydration in older adults can cause brain cells to shrink, which has been linked to the early stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Factors That Affect Hydration In older adults
Hydration is critical for maintaining good health and well-being, especially in older adults. However, as people age, their bodies may not be able to maintain the same level of hydration as they did when they were younger.
According to Healthline, several factors can impact hydration status in older adults, such as;
- A decline in total body fluid. As we age, the fluid in our bodies begins to decrease. This means fewer water reserves are available for your body to use as you age.
- Lowered thirst response. Feeling thirsty is your body’s way of letting you know you need water. However, because the thirst response decreases with age, older adults may not know they need to drink.
- Decreased kidney function. The function of the kidneys can decline with age, meaning that more water may be lost through urination.
- Health conditions and medications. Some older adults have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, dementia, and Parkinson’s, which can affect hydration levels. Some medications, such as diuretics, can also increase urine output and contribute to fluid loss.
- Environmental factors. Heat and humidity can increase fluid loss through sweat.
Understanding these factors is essential for ensuring that older adults maintain adequate hydration levels to prevent dehydration and related health issues.
How Much Should Older Adults Drink?
To maintain proper hydration, a rule of thumb is to drink fluids equal to one-third of your body weight in ounces. For instance, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should aim to consume 50 ounces of water daily.
However, consulting your doctor is the best approach to determine your daily fluid intake, as they can consider your medical history and current medications, some of which may cause increased water loss from the body.
Strategies To Promote Adequate Hydration In Older Adults
Drinking plenty of water is crucial to older adults’ daily wellness, so it’s important to ensure they reach their daily water intake goals.
There are several ways to promote adequate fluid intake among older adults, either through their initiative or with the help of their caregivers and family members.
Below are some useful tips from WebMD to improve your or your loved one’s water intake and overall hydration.
Steps To Maintain Hydration
- Throughout the day, sip on drinks. Consider getting a reusable water bottle with a straw and filling it with plain water, which can be carried wherever you go. Sipping on water throughout the day is an effective way to stay hydrated, and using a straw might make it even easier to drink more.
- When taking medication at different times of the day, have a full glass of water to increase water intake.
- As an afternoon snack, have a cup of low-fat soup, which can be counted as fluid intake towards your daily goal. Soup can help keep you hydrated and make for a healthy snack.
- Add a few slices of lemon, orange, or ice cubes to freshen up the taste of the water. This can make drinking water more enjoyable and ultimately lead to better hydration.
- During meals, take sips of water between bites. Adding fluids while eating can help you stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Schedule a daily tea break with a friend to make drinking more fluids enjoyable and effortless.
- Do not allow your core temperature to rise or remain elevated for an extended period.
- Avoid sweating too much and stay cool to maintain hydration.
- Limit alcohol intake to one drink per day for women and up to two for men. Alcoholic drinks do not count toward your daily fluid intake.
- Consume soft and wet foods that contain high water content, such as yogurt, gelatin desserts, pureed fruit, and custard, to increase water intake.
Ways To Support Your Loved Ones
To prevent dehydration in elderly loved ones, it is important to take proactive measures. Despite assumptions that sedentary older adults do not lose much water, dehydration is still common among them, regardless of their mobility.
To support your loved ones who have mobility issues or conditions that hinder their water intake, here are some ways you can do so.
- Ensure that your elderly loved one drinks enough fluids throughout the day by providing them with options they enjoy, such as flavored water, juices, smoothies, or even coffee and tea (which contain water but also caffeine). Encouraging them to drink small amounts of liquid more frequently, especially during the warmer months, is important.
- Place water bottles or cups strategically near their favorite spot or bed to remind them to drink and assist them with drinking if necessary.
- If your loved one has dementia, consider setting a timer to remind them to drink and track their intake.
- You can also make drinking enjoyable by hosting an afternoon tea service or offering mocktails and smoothies with fresh fruits and decorations like paper umbrellas.
- Fruits and vegetables, including cucumbers, watermelons, grapefruits, strawberries, celery, pineapples, kale, lettuce, grapes, and tomatoes, are excellent water sources and can be incorporated into their meals or snacks.
Read Also: Healthy Snacks for Happy Aging: A Guide to Healthy Snacking For Seniors
Foods with High Water Content for older adults
Although water is typically the primary source of hydration, it’s important to note that fluids can also come from food. Raw fruits and vegetables can be particularly hydrating.
A plate of chopped veggies, such as cucumber slices, bell pepper strips, cherry tomatoes, and celery sticks, paired with a healthy dip or hummus, can serve as a nutritious and hydrating snack.
To help ensure your loved one remains hydrated, consider incorporating some water-rich foods into their diet.
|Ingredient||Percent Water||Serving Size|
|Cucumber||96%||1 cup peeled and sliced|
|Watermelon||92%||1 cup diced, or 10 balls|
|Bell pepper||92%||3/4 cup sliced|
|Cantaloupe||90%||1/10 (1 small wedge)|
Source: Aging Care
Proper hydration is essential for healthy aging and quality of life. Older adults are particularly vulnerable to dehydration due to age-related changes in the body and decreased thirst sensation.
However, by recognizing the signs and risks of dehydration and promoting adequate fluid intake, older adults can maintain optimal functioning and prevent health problems. By staying hydrated, older adults can continue to thrive and enjoy life to the fullest.
To learn more about building a healthier diet for you or your older loved one, you may also check out our Senior Diet and Nutrition 101: A Senior’s Guide To Nutritious Life.