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Dehydration and Elders

Posted Feb 03 2010 2:35am

category_bug_journal2.gif Now, don't go thinking this is boring - it's not. It is something that could be dangerous but has a simple, easy solution. How often does that happen in life?

Last Monday la peregrina, who blogs at Santiago Dreaming, made an important health point in a comment on this blog:

“One of the biggest health concerns for older people,” she wrote, “is dehydration. An older relative of my husband was just in the hospital with what was first thought to be a stroke. It turns out she was dehydrated since she only drank coffee and an occasional Diet Dr. Pepper.”

She is absolutely right about it being a health risk for elders. One study found that lab tests revealed 48 percent of elders admitted to hospitals showed indications of dehydration. Another study found that 31 percent of long-term care residents were dehydrated.

Among the reasons elders are more susceptible to dehydration are that as we get older, our bodies are less able to conserve water and less able to respond to changes in temperature. Conditions that make dehydration more likely in elders include hot weather, fever, diarrhea and vomiting. Poorly-controlled diabetes can contribute to dehydration as can kidney disorders and taking diuretics which are sometimes used in the treatment of hypertension.

The most interesting reason for higher risk of dehydration in elders is that as we get older, we often don't realize when we are thirsty.

“Scientists...have warned that elderly people are at risk of becoming dehydrated because their brains underestimate how much water they need to drink to rehydrate...

“Florey researchers...discovered that a region in the brain called the mid cingulate cortex predicts how much water a person needs, but this region malfunctions in older people.”
Medical News Today 28 December 2007

Symptoms of dehydration can include headache, lethargy, confusion, hallucinations, light-headedness and fainting. With mild dehydration, skin and membranes of the eyes and nose become dry. Severe dehydration can lead to such serious effects as falls, dizziness, delirium and drop in blood pressure causing death.

Dehydration is not to be taken lightly.

Caregivers should be aware of these symptoms, be sure there is plenty of water available for those who cannot get around on their own, and they should get their loved ones or patients to a doctor as soon as possible when symptoms appear. Treatment involves replacement of lost fluids orally or via an intravenous tube if necessary.

As it happens, my physician and I discussed elder dehydration just last month during my annual checkup. I tend to not drink enough fluids so la peregrina's comment was a good reminder for me. In most cases, dehydration is easy to prevent: drink more liquids, even if you don't feel thirsty.

Unless dehydration is related to disease needing a physician's attention and if you are otherwise healthy, that's pretty much all there is to it - drink more water. Isn't it a relief to find a simple answer in a modern world where all too often solutions are complicated and cost a fortune.

Most adults should drink about eight glasses of water a day. Physically active people should drink more.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: A Good Joke

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