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Helping Seniors Stay Hydrated in the Heat of Summer

By June 26, 2015Archives

Even though many of us tend to think of summer starting in the late spring, the official start of summer just occurred on June 21st. The weather is much warmer, even blazing hot in some locations. While it is good to be outside and get some exposure to sunlight and fresh air, overheating is a possibility and with that can come dehydration.

Dehydration is a medical concern, particularly for seniors. Here are some reasons why we need to be so attentive:

  • Seniors are more likely to have medical conditions that increase the chance of dehydration. These include diabetes, digestive issues, and infections. Water may be lost through the kidneys, through diarrhea or through fever and lack of water consumption because the senior doesn’t “feel good.”
  • Most of the elderly population is required to take multiple medications. Some of these medications such as diuretics for high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney disease will increase urine production. If enough water is not consumed the elder may become dehydrated.
  • As we age, our bodies change. We become less sensitive to hormones such as “anti-diuretic hormone” which helps to reduce the loss of water through the urine. If ADH is not working, the urine may be dilute and result in dehydration.
  • Seniors may experience a decline in “thirst response” which means that their bodies do not tell them when dehydration is a possibility. In addition, many elders do not pay as much attention to what they eat or drink as younger people do, living on the “tea and toast” diet. They have grown up in a time where the amount of fluid one consumed was not a known issue.
  • Elders may also resist fluid consumption to reduce the need to urinate, particularly if mobility or incontinence is an issue.
  • Dehydration has symptoms but some of these signs may be confused with similar conditions the senior has such as:

  • Confusion
  • Weakness and dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Dry skin
  • It is important to recognize the difference in confusion or irritability caused by dementia and sudden changes caused by dehydration. Dry skin in dehydration indicates that the elder has “stopped” sweating as their body does not have enough water to try and cool itself.

    Dizziness, weakness, and rapid heartbeat can indicate that the dehydration is severe enough to decrease the blood pressure.
    Early recognition may allow you to help the senior recover quickly by drinking an adequate amount of fluid. The senior should be moved into a cool area, in the shade. If symptoms are severe, medical help will be needed.

    The best way to treat dehydration is to prevent it. As the senior may be unaware of the risk, unaware of the symptoms and resistant to the need to hydrate, it is your job as a caregiver to encourage compliance and notice any changes. Prevention is much easier and much healthier than post-dehydration treatment.

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