Nutrition Matters: Preventing dehydration in older adults

Monday, January 27, 2020

Nutrition Matters logoFluids – specifically water – play an important role in our overall well-being. In fact, our bodies are 50 percent water, which needs to be replaced every day. If your body has less water than it needs to function at its best, you could be dehydrated.

Dehydration is a frequent cause of hospital admissions for the senior population. In this column, I’ll explain why fluids are important, what the signs and symptoms of dehydration are and offer tips on how to get enough fluids.

Fluids help regulate body temperature and metabolism, which is how your body utilizes the foods you consume. Fluids help transport nutrients throughout your body. Fluids also lubricate your joints, aid with digestion, keep your skin healthy and are required for respiration. When you don’t drink enough fluids, you don’t feel good.

The senior population is especially at risk for dehydration because they often have a decreased sense of thirst that leads to decreased intake of fluids. In addition, their kidney function may be decreased, and they may be unable to conserve fluids when they are not drinking enough.

Taking medications like laxatives and diuretics (water pills) can also lead to dehydration. It is common for someone taking a diuretic to decrease the amount of water they drink to slow down the frequency of their urination or incontinence episodes, which can put them at higher risk of dehydration.

Dehydration isn’t a concern only during warm weather because it isn’t dependent on temperature. You can become dehydrated just as easily in the winter.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration include, but are not limited to: acute confusion, weakness, falling, constipation, headache, decreased blood pressure, increased heart rate and fever.

Because of the increased risk of dehydration for seniors, it’s important to educate them and their families and caregivers about their need for fluids.
On average, we should all consume eight cups of fluid per day. To ensure this in seniors, fluids should be available all day and they should be easily accessible. This may mean keeping a glass of water beside a senior’s bed and chair, encouraging them to drink fluids between bites at mealtimes, and encouraging them to drink a glass of water after each bathroom trip and when they take their medications.

WaterIt’s also good idea to provide a senior’s preferred beverages so they are more likely to consume them. Water is the best choice, but juice, milk and even decaffeinated coffee or tea count.

Seniors should eat fruits and vegetables daily, and several fruits and vegetables even have high water content, including watermelon, strawberries, cucumbers and lettuce. Other food items like soup, gelatin and puddings also provide fluids. provide a senior’s preferred beverages so they are more likely to consume them. Water is the best choice, but juice, milk and even decaffeinated coffee or tea count.

If there is a medical condition that limits the amount of fluids a senior can consume, be sure to consult with a physician or dietitian to understand the best approach for them to avoid dehydration.

Prevention or identification and treatment of dehydration is important for everyone – and especially seniors – every single day. Are you or a senior that you know drinking enough?