Senior Health

6/15/2020 | By Stacey Cain

Dehydration is an enemy to our bodies and not always something we easily recognize. Depending on the level, it can have serious effects, especially in older adults. In general, we can’t survive without water for more than four days – which brings the importance of staying hydrated into perspective. 

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in. Just like caloric intake, it’s an equation that should be kept in balance. Fluids help regulate your body temperature, maintain blood pressure, and eliminate waste – all, of course, very important functions. 

What can cause dehydration? 

  • Any function that causes additional perspiration, such as being outside or doing more strenuous activities. Illness involving vomiting and/or diarrhea can quickly cause dehydration.
  • Medications are a common source – and seniors often take several at once.
  • As we age, our sense of thirst declines, so we drink less.
  • Decreased kidney function affects liquid conservation starting as early as 50 years old, and continues to worsen as we age. 

How do I know if I’m dehydrated? 

The signs can be small, but build quickly if not remedied. One easy test is to pull up the skin on the back of your hand. If it doesn’t return to normal quickly, you might be dehydrated. Here are some other indicators: 

  • Dry mouth, dry eyes, dry skin
  • Darker urine, infrequency of urination, constipation
  • Lack of perspiration and tears
  • Fatigue, anger, and/or confusion
  • Headache, dizziness, or disorientation
  • Muscle cramps, fever, sunken eye
  • Rapid breathing and/or heart rate

How much water is enough? 

We’ve all heard “eight glasses a day” as the rule, but body weight is what really dictates the amount of water right for you. There is a normal state of body water that directly relates to your weight. Generally, larger people, and those who tend to perspire more, need to drink more water – so there is no one-size-fits-all rule. The Mayo Clinic recommends women drink about 11 cups per day and men drink 15 cups per day.

Can you drink too much water? 

Excessive water intake can disturb brain function when the balance of electrolytes in the body becomes unstable. This condition is known as hyperhydration and can be dangerous – even fatal. But don’t worry – this is rare and takes extreme, usually intentional measures to achieve. 

Do other drinks help with hydration?

Coffee, tea, and even beer can help keep you hydrated to some degree. It’s said that caffeinated beverages are dehydrating, but the amount is small compared to the water you’re getting with them. The same is true for alcohol in beer; however, the diuretic effect of caffeine and alcohol makes moderation a must. 

On the other end of the spectrum, sugary and carbonated beverages can exacerbate dehydration. 

Are there foods that help with hydration?

Diet affects hydration levels significantly. Many fruits, vegetables, and soups are mostly water- based, so they help contribute to hydration. 

The physical effects of dehydration

Dehydration can lead to a host of health concerns: from headaches and dizziness, to urinary tract infections and pneumonia, to even, in extreme cases, death. 

Most of the time, mild dehydration can be treated at home, but severe cases can lead to hospitalization. If you start to see signs, hydrate immediately; talk to your health care professional if it continues to get worse. 

But, as always, prevention is the best method! 

Seniors Guide is not a source of medical advice. Always consult with your medical professional regarding your health. 

Stacey Cain

Stacey Cain has had her hand in the senior industry for over 25 years, serving clients in senior housing and healthcare. She joined the Seniors Guide team in 2019, and loves both the people she works for and with. While she’s not busy being an industry expert, she stays occupied with gardening, cooking, and family – including two Miniature Schnauzers, Freddy Mercury and Didi!

Stacey Cain