Strategies to Prevent Dehydration in the Elderly
My 96-year-old father easily aspirates liquids, unless they are thickened. Keeping him hydrated is a challenge. He will eat fruit and ice cream, but he refuses most vegetables and soup, so he doesn’t get a lot of water from his food. His lack of mobility is also an issue. You may have other difficulties hydrating your elderly loved one or client.
Dehydration can be difficult to detect, especially in older people. However, its effect on your client or loved one’s health can be dramatic and even life-threatening. Usually, humans can’t survive more than four days without water. Because body water content decreases with age, especially in women, dehydration can occur fairly quickly. Although knowing the symptoms of dehydration and its damaging effects can be important (see below), having a strategy for prevention is the most important thing for the elderly and their caregivers to focus on.
10 strategies to prevent dehydration in yourself and others:
Staying hydrated is more difficult the older you get. You can’t rely on feeling thirsty and it’s often more difficult to get up and get something to drink.
- Include foods with high water content in your diet, e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables, soup, dairy products.
- Keep a water bottle or glass of water within easy reach.
- Drink a glass of water or another beverage with every meal. Offer a choice.
- Schedule other consistent times when a glass of water is offered, e.g., after going to the bathroom or brushing teeth.
- Drink more than just a swallow or two of liquid with medications.
- Avoid getting overheated. Drink more when you do.
- Drink small amounts frequently throughout the day and less at bedtime.
- Drink liquids regularly, even when you’re not thirsty.
- Consume caffeinated drinks in moderation. Too much can be dehydrating.
- Monitor weight loss. A sudden loss of 2 pounds or more signals dehydration in people over 60.
Signs that you or your loved one might be dehydrated:
Keeping an elderly person hydrated requires constant monitoring. Some of these symptoms my signal other serious conditions. Check with your doctor.
- Low urine output or dark-colored urine
- Dry mouth
- Inability to sweat or produce tears
- Dizziness or difficulty walking
- Rapid heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Sunken eyes
Dangers of dehydration:
These and other health problems can be the result of dehydration.
- Urinary tract infections
- Bedsoresin bed-ridden patients
- Kidney stones
- Medicine toxicity
- Increase in falls
- Longer stays in rehab facilities.
Some of the risk factors that heighten the chance of developing dehydration include:
- Swallowing disorderscaused by aging, stroke, Parkinson’s disease or dementia
- Patientsover 85 years old
- Diarrhea,vomiting or excessive sweating
- Having5 or more chronic diseases
- Taking5 or more prescription medications
- Diminished drinking due tofear of incontinence
Learning more about staying hydrated, or how to keep your patient or loved one hydrated, and then developing a strategy to prevent dehydration can be very important to overall health and even longevity.
by Marti Lythgoe, DTNHC Writer/Editor