When the body loses more fluid than it takes in, dehydration is the result. Many people mistakenly think dehydration simply means they get a little thirsty or maybe a little dizzy in hot weather, but dehydration is quite a dangerous condition, especially for elderly people. Surprisingly, many seniors experience chronic dehydration and neither they nor their family caregivers even realize it.
How Seniors Become Dehydrated.
It’s very easy for seniors to become dehydrated, especially in very hot weather. The body doesn’t retain fluids as well as it used to, so even a little bit of water loss can have a big effect. Elderly people also may not feel the sensations of thirst as early as they once did, making it easy to skip regular drinks of water. Other factors might include prescription medications that are diuretics, which encourage frequent urination, further depleting bodily fluids.
Chronic illnesses, problems with swallowing, dementia, diabetes, obesity, mobility problems, and more can also affect the body and contribute to dehydration. Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety can interfere with regular eating and drinking as well. Finally, some seniors purposefully refrain from drinking regularly in an effort to control incontinence. There are so many different challenges that seniors face to stay properly hydrated that it is no surprise that dehydration is common in the elderly.
Dangers of Dehydration in Seniors.
The reason it is so important for seniors to avoid dehydration is because it can cause a number of health problems, both long-term and short-term. While dehydration is not healthy for anyone at any age, seniors have a more difficult time recovering from health problems and may experience more severe effects than other age groups. Often, seniors simply need reminders from family members and home care assistants to drink throughout the day, drink with meals and have a water bottle beside their bed if they wake up thirsty.
Here are some of the top dangers that dehydration can trigger in seniors:
- The most significant issues are kidney stones, urinary tract infections and even kidney failure. Water is necessary for these systems to function, and when body fluids are low, they struggle to perform properly.
- In warm weather, dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion and heatstroke in elderly people. Not only do these conditions put strain on internal organs, heatstroke can be deadly if left untreated.
- When the body is depleted of electrolytes due to dehydration, normal muscle functions become erratic. Effects include muscle cramps, seizures and sometimes unconsciousness.
- Low blood volume shock happens when blood pressure drops to dangerous levels, reducing the amount of oxygen the body is getting. It can lead to life-threatening health effects.
- Swelling of the brain cells can occur when seniors take in too much fluid too rapidly during an advanced state of dehydration. This can lead to brain damage or cell rupture.
It’s definitely better for seniors to avoid dehydration in the first place, because the physical problems that the condition causes in their bodies can lead to illness or worse. Family caregivers and home care aides should provide seniors with plenty of water to drink throughout the day, remind them to drink even if they don’t feel thirsty, and watch for early warning signs of dehydration.