The summertime can be a great opportunity to spend time enjoying the outdoors and beautiful weather. However, as temperatures continue to rise, dehydration can pose a serious threat, especially to older adults. When our bodies expel more water than is put back in, we can become dehydrated quickly. Our bodies need water in order to perform basic functions like regulating our temperature, emitting waste and lubricating our joints, among many others. Dehydration can cause a number of serious side-effects, especially if it goes unaddressed for long periods of time.
Causes and Symptoms of Dehydration
Because our ability to store fluid decreases as we age, older adults are more at risk of dehydration. In fact, according to an article published by the Journal of the National Medical Association, “Dehydration is the most common fluid and electrolyte problem among the elderly.” Many older adults experience a weakened thirst response, which keeps them from feeling thirsty and can often lead to dehydration. In addition, various underlying health conditions, such as decreased kidney function, and the medications used to treat them can cause increased urination, leading to significant fluid loss if it doesn’t get replaced. While these conditions can pose an increased risk, there are several common causes of dehydration:
Heat Exposure– Hot and humid weather conditions can lead to increased sweating and loss of fluid. If these fluids aren’t replaced, it can cause dehydration quickly.
Diarrhea and Vomiting– When we are ill, it’s not uncommon to experience both diarrhea and vomiting. However, when this happens, our bodies discard both fluids and electrolytes which can cause massive dehydration if it persists for a long period of time.
Fever– An increased fever can often lead to lack of thirst and loss of fluid.
Underlying Health Conditions– Some diseases, such as diabetes and kidney disease, can cause you to lose additional fluid. Those who suffer from diabetes can experience an increase in blood sugar levels. When the kidneys are unable to retain the sugar, it gets dumped into the urine and can cause increased urination.
Decreased Mobility– Older adults who need assistance with eating and drinking have an increased risk of dehydration.
It can be difficult to identify when we are dehydrated, especially if we think we are getting enough fluids. While thirst and dark colored urine are obvious signs of dehydration, there are more subtle signs that can present themselves. According to the Mayo Clinic, here are some of the most common symptoms of dehydration in older adults:
• Extreme thirst
• Less frequent urination
• Muscle weakness
• Rapid heart rate
• Low blood pressure
If you ever experience diarrhea for 24 hours or more, can’t keep fluids down, or have bloody and black stool, make sure to contact your doctor or healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Benefits of Staying Hydrated
We lose water just by breathing! In order for our bodies to function properly, we have to consistently replenish our water supply. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, men need to consume 3.7 liters of fluids each day, while women need 2.7 liters. Exercise, sickness and weather can all contribute to our daily hydration needs. While the importance of hydration often goes unrecognized, staying hydrated has many health benefits:
• Helps maintain bodily functions– Our bodies are mostly made of water, so it makes sense that we need it to function. Normal bodily functions like producing saliva, digesting food, regulating our internal temperatures, excreting waste and absorbing nutrients all require water. The more we pay attention to how much water we consume, the more likely we are to have a body that functions well.
• Repairs our muscles– When we use our muscles, both during a normal day and during exercise, they can become fatigued without adequate fluids. When we drink water, we ensure our muscles have the nutrients they need to recover and get stronger.
• Increases energy levels and brain function– Research suggests that mild dehydration can have a negative effect on our mood, cognitive skills and memory.
• Decreases risk of headaches– Some individuals experience headaches as a symptom of dehydration. When our bodies are dehydrated, our brains can actually contract from the loss of fluid, resulting in a headache. Replenishing our bodies with fluids can decrease the risk of a headache from dehydration.
• Aids in weight loss– Consuming water can increase feelings of fullness and also helps boost metabolism. Our brains can also mistake dehydration for hunger, so if it’s not time to eat, you might consider drinking water before consuming food. Always remember to consult your doctor before making changes to your diet, especially when weight loss is your goal.
Tips for Consuming More Water
Staying hydrated can be a constant challenge for older adults, especially if they struggle with feeling thirsty or take medications that compromise their fluid levels. A good place to begin is to add more water to your everyday routine. You might consider consuming a full glass of water with every meal or starting each day with a glass of water. This way, drinking water becomes a habit. If you or your loved one have a hard time remembering to drink water, setting a timer for certain times throughout the day can help. In addition to consuming water, there are a number of different ways we can stay hydrated from the foods we eat. Here are a few suggestions to start with:
Eat more fruits and vegetables
Most fruits and vegetables have high water content, which means in addition to receiving nutrients, your body also gets refueled with fluids. Fruits like watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches and oranges are mostly made up of water and have added fiber and nutrients that help boost immune function and promote feelings of fullness. Vegetables like cucumber, lettuce, cabbage and zucchini are high in water and low in calories. You can find a full list of hydrating foods provided by Healthline magazine here.
Consuming hydrating meals, like soup, can help you consume more hydrating fluids as opposed to only drinking a glass of water. Adding in additional hydrating vegetables can make soups filling, hydrating and nutrient dense.
Smoothies and Beverages
For some people, staying hydrated is easier when it comes in different forms. Smoothies made of yogurt, berries and other liquids like milk or water, are high in vitamins, nutrients and will also keep you satiated. Adding raspberries, lemons and cucumbers to your water can add a subtle flavor which makes it a tastier option than plain water.
Staying Hydrated at Maplewood Senior Living
Our staff at each of our Maplewood Senior Living communities make it a priority to provide plenty of options for hydration to our residents. Infused water beverages, soups, smoothies and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are provided with each meal. In addition, our staff hosts educational seminars for residents to learn more about nutrition and ways to stay healthy and active. To learn more about our offerings, please contact us!