Dehydration is Dangerous
Drinking enough water is important for everyone, but especially for older adults who are at greater risk for dehydration. The recent heatwave we’ve experienced in North Tyneside and Newcastle has reminded us again of the importance of hydration for those we care for.
Some studies have found that 40% of seniors may be chronically under-hydrated. That can easily lead to dehydration and cause a variety of serious health problems, including urinary tract infections (UTI), falls, kidney stones, and more.
Adults age 65 and up have the highest hospital admission rates for dehydration.
Why dehydration is so common in older adults?
Older adults are more likely to become dehydrated because they naturally have less water in their bodies.
They’re also likely to have health conditions or take medication which could increase their risk of dehydration – like blood pressure medications that flush water from the body.
Additionally, older people:
- Are less sensitive to the feeling of being thirsty
- Have a decreased ability to keep fluid levels in balance in the body
- Have less efficient performing kidney function, which causes urine to contain more water
- Often take medications that cause side effects like diarrhoea or excessive sweating
Symptoms of dehydration in older people
Early dehydration symptoms in older adults often go unrecognised because many of the signs of mild dehydration could easily be caused by other health conditions or medication side effects. It’s far easier to correct mild dehydration than deal with the complications of serious dehydration symptoms. Being familiar with the signs helps you take action sooner rather than later.
Mild dehydration symptoms:
- Dry mouth
- Dark-coloured urine or very small amount of urine
- Muscle cramps in limbs
- Feeling weak or unwell
- Being sleepy or irritable
Serious dehydration symptoms
- Low blood pressure
- Difficulty walking
- Fast, but weak pulse
- Bloated stomach
- Wrinkled skin with no elasticity – try the “pinch test”
- Dry and sunken eyes
- Breathing faster than normal
- Severe cramping and muscle contractions in the body
Health risks of dehydration
For older people being well hydrated is necessary for many medications to work effectively.
Dehydration can also cause serious health problems, including:
- Heat stroke
- Fainting or passing out
- Urinary tract infections (UTI)
- Kidney stones and kidney failure
- Blood clot complications
- Hypovolemic shock – when low blood volume causes a drop in blood pressure and a drop in the amount of oxygen in the body
The risk of dehydration is most severe in the advanced stages of dementia due to not recognising thirst, having a complete lack of thirst or being unable to express thirst to others. Increased confusion and/or a change in usual behaviour are the first signs that someone with dementia may be dehydrated.
Benefits of drinking enough water
Aside from avoiding serious health problems, staying well hydrated has its benefits too.
Drinking enough water means:
- Less constipation / reduced need for laxatives
- Fewer falls
- Reduced risk of urinary tract infection
- Men may have reduced risk of bladder cancer
- Reduced risk of colorectal cancer
We’d encourage you to prompt your loved ones to take additional fluids during this warm spell and encourage them to do this very regularly.