8/18/2022 | By Kari Smith

Seniors Guide examines the critical and sometimes-overlooked issue of hydration for seniors. The natural aging process, medications, and dementia can increase dehydration issues, and having insufficient fluids can cause discomfort at best, and serious health repercussions at worst. Writer Kari Smith examines the problem and offers easy-to-implement solutions.

I admit it, though the confession often earns me looks of surprise and even disdain … I hate drinking water. I mean I really, really don’t like to drink water. I can make it relatively tolerable with a fancy thermal tumbler, a straw (reusable, please!), a lime, cucumber, or some mint leaves, but I really struggle to just drink a bottle of plain water.

Sadly, lack of hydration has ill effects, since our bodies need water for most every function. In fact, the average adult human body is composed of about 60% water. I often realize this when I begin to feel dizzy, have a headache coming on, or feel fatigued, that I have not been drinking enough water.

On the plus side, water also helps to moisturize skin, remove toxins, and lubricate joints.

As we age, not drinking enough water becomes even more of a problem, as the aging process can make us slower to realize that we are hungry or thirsty. Increasing how much water you drink daily could be a simple way to remedy those early signs of dehydration: muscle cramps, confusion, or urinating less frequently than usual (which may sound convenient but indicates problems). This makes hydration for seniors an important issue to be aware of, to keep at front of mind.

What is dehydration?

Simply put: dehydration is what happens when your body has insufficient water. Mild dehydration can be uncomfortable; serious dehydration can be life-threatening. Since water accounts for more than 70% of our cells’ mass, it follows that dehydration affects the entire body, down to the cellular level, and can even inhibit the body’s healing process and natural immunity.

What causes dehydration?

Not drinking enough water is only one of many reasons your body can become dehydrated. Many associate dehydration with heat, and this certainly can contribute, along with heavy exercise and excessive sweating. Illnesses that involve losing fluids (such as diarrhea and vomiting) can cause your body to become dehydrated quicky, since you are losing fluids more quickly than your body is able to absorb them.

Related: Tips for beating the heat

What are signs of dehydration?

Obviously, if you are excessively thirsty or notice that you have not felt the need to eliminate urine, you may be dehydrated. Other less obvious signs include dark urine, dry mouth, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, or confusion or exhaustion that has no other explanation. If you experience several of these symptoms or you are unable to keep fluids down, it may be time to seek medical attention.

Why is dehydration for seniors more of an issue?

Many of us tend to drink only when we feel thirsty. This can lead to problems, especially as appetites and levels of thirst can diminish due to natural aging, as body composition, kidney function, and ability to regulate temperature change. Thus if you don’t feel thirsty and so don’t drink, you can easily become dehydrated.

Certain medications that aging adults are more likely to take – especially diuretics – can lead to dehydration, too. Be sure to tell every medical provider and specialist you see about all over-the-counter and prescription medications or supplements you are taking so that they can anticipate any drug interaction or issue that may arise from taking certain medications together.

Those with cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia may be more susceptible to dehydration simply due to a lack of awareness that they are thirsty, or forgetting that they need to drink fluids.

How much water should I drink a day?

Woman making a fruit salad at home. Photo by Vicki Vale, Dreamstime. Natural aging, medications, and dementia increase dehydration issues. SG looks at the problem and offers solutions for hydration for seniors.

Eight glasses, right? Well, that could be a good goal, but the truth is – this varies widely. Your weight and overall health, your activity level, your climate and environment, even the size of the glass – all of these make a difference.

Keep in mind that your fluid intake may not be simply water. Much of our fluid can be consumed in other beverages and even in foods with a high water content. Veggies such as cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, and lettuce; fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, and strawberries; even soups, broths, and popsicles – all of these foods will help contribute to your total fluid intake for the day.

Talk to your medical provider for more guidance on how much your daily fluid intake should be, and they will help determine a healthy amount based on your general health, any medical conditions you may have, and any prescription or over-the-counter medications or supplements you may take.

But what if I don’t LIKE drinking water?

Wait – I’m not alone? If you struggle to drink water as I do:

  • Add citrus fruits, cucumber, or your favorite herbs or berries to your water.
  • Keep a refillable water glass or bottle, or one that tracks your water intake throughout the day, handy at all times.
  • Avoid sodas, caffeine, and alcohol, as these are diuretics and actually cause your body to expel necessary fluids.

Talk to your medical professional to be sure that you are meeting your body’s fluid intake needs, and if you have been experiencing signs of dehydration, make an appointment as soon as possible.

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith