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Hidden Danger of Dehydration for the Elderly

Older people have an added danger of dehydration when symptoms are misdiagnosed

HEALTH GOES STRONG
ROBYN FLIPSE

Staying properly hydrated in hot weather is important for everyone, but the danger of dehydration in the elderly is of special concern. Not only do older adults become dehydrated more easily than younger people, the warning signs are often mistaken for something more serious.

Anyone who lives alone and has limited mobility is at risk of dehydration. The use of multiple medications increases the risk. Now add all those people who cannot communicate clearly and the count gets higher.

Why? They simply don't drink enough. The primary causes of dehydration for the general population are vomiting, diarrhea, heavy sweating, uncontrolled or undiagnosed diabetes, infections, high fevers, and burns. But for those who can't, won't or don't drink all that they should, dehydration is a dark secret.

Why Some Seniors Don't Drink Enough

  • Fear of incontinence, especially if taking diuretics
  • Unable to get up out of a chair or bed alone
  • Too difficult or exhausting to walk to the bathroom
  • Difficulty toileting alone - undressing, sitting on commode, cleaning themselves, redressing
  • Inability to get food or beverages for themselves or get enough
  • Don't feel thirsty, especially if inactive
  • Trouble holding a glass or cup to drink for themselves
  • Unable or unwilling to ask for help
  • Depression

The danger of dehydration for the elderly is heightened when the symptoms are not addressed because they are so similar to age-related dementia, senility and Alzheimer's disease. Instead of getting the fluids and assistance with using the bathroom that they need, they may be viewed as incompetent. That is why it is important to monitor fluid intake and excretion in someone with the symptoms below before taking other steps.

Mental Signs of Dehydration

  • Headache
  • Dizziness, especially upon standing
  • Light-headedness
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Irritability
  • Forgetfulness

Physical Signs of Dehydration

  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Thick saliva
  • Dry, inelastic skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Low tear production
  • Low sweat production
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Dark-colored urine

Functional Signs of Dehydration

  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Tired or sleepy
  • Nausea
  • Constipated
  • Infrequent urination

Both foods and beverages can provide the fluids our bodies need each day. Fruits and vegetables are very high in moisture and may be easier for some people to consume than another glass of water, juice or tea. You can also rely on flavored gelatin, pudding, yogurt, ice pops, sherbet, and soup for added fluids.