What is dehydration and how do we prevent it?
Dehydration is at the root of many preventable conditions that affect older adults. Constipation, urinary tract infections, confusion and falls can all result from dehydration. Hopefully not all at once! Often insidious in onset, dehydration results when there is not enough fluid in the blood vessels and cells for cellular metabolism. This fluid imbalance results when we don’t ingest enough fluids to compensate for what we expel when we urinate, sweat and breath. Equipped with compensatory mechanisms designed to avoid dehydration, these processes tend to wear with age, becoming less responsive and effective. These systems include the thirst messaging system and the ability of the kidneys to reduce and concentrate urine. Complicating matters, individuals with chronic conditions and medications can also negatively affect these compensatory systems.
It is important to know that the signs and symptoms of dehydration vary, and progressively worsen based on severity. The initial and classic signs of dehydration include a sense of thirst, dry lips and tongue and dark urine. Advanced signs may include dry skin in arm pit, dizziness, confusion, weakness, reduce volumes of dark urine and a heart rate greater than 100 bpm.
The more extreme the signs and symptoms of dehydration, the more severe the degree of dehydration and subsequently, the more important it is to seek professional medical treatment. For mild dehydration, have the individual, (or yourself) drink a glass of water. They should perk up after 10-15 minutes. To prevent dehydration it is important to understand contributing factors. Individuals who have memory difficulties often forget to drink. Honestly, we all do this! Individuals who have mobility issues and/or those who are depend on others, need special attention to ensure they drink adequate volumes of water. Urinary incontinence, chronic conditions, medications and acute illness can all negatively affect ones ability and/or desire to ingest adequate amounts of fluid. And then there is the challenge of extreme weather that makes us more susceptible to dehydration.
So, how do we prevent and treat mild dehydration in older adults? Frequently offering beverages in small glasses is less overwhelming than a 32oz bottle of water. I have found that visually appealing kid-size glasses work well. And by all means, offer beverages that the person prefers. Straws can entice an individual to drink, as can adding a little sweetener. Adding a mint leaf, a slice of lemon, lemon juice or a little bit of flavored Crystal Light (powder or liquid) adds a little color and sweetness to to water. Hot and cold iced teas, lemonade, fruit water, coffee, and broth based soups (watch sodium levels!) are options, as are fruits and vegetable with high water content (watermelon), And then there is always ice cream, popsicles and good old jello (or Danish Dessert).
I hope you find this information helpful.