As the summer months are upon us, it is important to educate our seniors of the threat that heat and dehydration pose. Dehydration is a reduction of body fluid. As we age, the percentage of body water content decreases placing us at greater risk for dehydration. When dehydration occurs, seniors are at risk for complications that could result in emergency hospitalizations.
What factors contribute to the increased risk of dehydration?
- Seniors have a diminished thirst sensation which leads to decreased water intake.
- Many seniors take a ‘water pill’ such as Lasix. This medication pulls fluid from the body which is sometimes needed with certain diagnoses. Because this medication causes an increase in urination, seniors limit their water intake to prevent frequent visits to the bathroom or incontinent episodes.
- Many commonly prescribed medications impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature or inhibit perspiration. Monitoring the room temperature in their houses or apartments is important.
What can happen when an older person becomes dehydrated?
- Kidney function becomes impaired, which can lead to urinary tract infections or kidney stones.
- Heart function is affected. Lower blood pressure, elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness, and chest pain can occur.
- Headaches increased confusion and behavior changes.
- Compromised immunity and skin integrity.
How can we prevent dehydration?
- Limit our time outdoors to early morning or evening hours.
- Wear cool, light-colored clothing.
- Encourage increased fluid intake during the summer months. Avoid caffeinated drinks, alcohol, and juices with high sugar content. If the person dislikes drinking water, add a sugar-free flavor enhancer.
- Increase high fluid meal options such as fruit and low sodium soups.
Dehydration in our senior population can occur very quickly. It affects every body system and often becomes a vicious cycle. Dehydration can lead to low blood pressure, increased confusion, urinary tract infections and ultimately increases the fall risks. It takes a conscious effort to encourage the older person to increase their fluid intake and knowledge of the signs and symptoms of dehydration to provide a quick response and break that cycle.
Resident Services Specialist