Causes of Dehydration in the Elderly

The older you get, the more susceptible you are to dehydration. It’s an issue that can cause everything from dry mouth and bad breath to organ damage and seizures.  Adequate fluid intake can make a massive difference to an individual’s health and this becomes more pronounced with age.

Why are Older Adults More Susceptible to Dehydration?

Dehydration is a common issue in the elderly, with age impacting all the following:

  • Thirst Triggers: Your body sends signals to announce when it is hungry and thirsty. These signals become less effective with age, which means you don’t always feel thirsty when your body needs fluids.
  • Kidney Function: Your kidneys filter your blood and produce urine. As you age, they become less effective and more fluid is lost as a result.
  • Health Conditions: Many health conditions cause dehydration, and these become more common with age.
  • Body Composition: As much as 60% of the human body is water, but this decreases with age. The body has fewer reserves to tap into.
  • Medications: Seniors are significantly more likely to take medications than younger adults, and many of these can lead to dehydration.

Causes of Dehydration in the Elderly

Many medications have a diuretic effect, which increases urination and may lead to excessive fluid loss. Kidney disease and diabetes have a similar effect. These conditions, and medications in general, are more common in seniors. Other potential issues include:

  • Illness: Viral and bacterial infections can cause excessive fluid loss from diarrhea, fever sweats, and vomiting. It’s always important to drink fluids when you’re ill but it becomes even more important for seniors.
  • Heat Exposure: When you spend prolonged periods in the sun, you need to increase your fluid intake as the body loses fluid through sweating.
  • Dysphagia: A condition that makes it difficult to swallow and discourages seniors from drinking an adequate amount.
  • Mobility Issues: Seniors with mobility issues may struggle to make it to the kitchen and to pour themselves a glass of water. As this seemingly simple task becomes difficult, they make fewer trips and consume less fluids.

The early symptoms of dehydration include tiredness, fatigue, dry mouth, and muscle cramping. These may progress to dizziness and an increased heart rate, followed by confusion and vomiting. If untreated, these symptoms could cause urinary problems, kidney stones, and kidney failure.

How Much do You Need to Drink?

It’s often said that you should consume 8 glasses of water a day. The “glass” in this recommendation is 8 ounces, which equates to a total of 64 ounces. That’s half a gallon or two liters of water.

It’s a recommendation that’s supposed to simplify things, but it can often make things even more confusing. The truth is, your water needs depend on your gender, age, health conditions, medication, and location. 

If you exercise a lot, live in a hot climate, and are prone to excessive sweating, you’ll need much more water than someone who lives in a cold climate and has a sedentary lifestyle.

A lot of the fluid you get over the day is actually provided by the food you eat, and that creates another variable, as a whole foods diet rich in fruits and vegetables will supply more fluid than one composed of processed food.

It’s not just water either, as other fluids will hydrate you just the same. Fruit juices should be consumed in moderation as they are high in sugar, but a glass a day can help you get your fill of nutrients and meet your needs. 

Tea and coffee are also hydrating. It’s often said that coffee acts as a diuretic and shouldn’t be included in your daily allowance. However, the diuretic effects of caffeine are very weak and as long as you’re not overdoing it (caffeine is a stimulant, after all) you should be okay. 

Black, green, and white tea contain caffeine as well, but decaf options are available if you’re sensitive to this stimulant, and herbal tea is naturally caffeine-free.

How to Avoid Dehydration

Take a look at the following tips to stay hydrated and avoid the problems associated with dehydration:

  • Don’t rely on your thirst signals and try to drink at least 64 ounces of water every day.
  • Drink when you wake up to hydrate after a long night and avoid drinking too much at nighttime, so you don’t wake up to use the toilet multiple times.
  • Eat as many whole foods as possible, focusing on fruits and vegetables with high water content, including celery, watermelon, cucumber, and apples.
  • Keep large water bottles with you to avoid making repeat trips to the fridge.
  • If you don’t like the taste, add some fresh fruit or herbs to the water to liven it up.
  • Drink plenty of tea and herbal tea but monitor your coffee and overall caffeine consumption.
  • Increase your fluid intake if you’re sweating a lot.
  • Speak with your doctor about medications and existing health conditions to see how they impact your fluid levels.