Older Adults and Dehydration Risks


Posted on September 1, 2015 by Michele Macmartin

For older adults, staying hydrated can be a challenge. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, one in three older adults may not drink enough fluids each day due to physical and physiological changes common to aging,  such as: diminished thirst sensation, side effects of medications and incontinence. The inability to walk, reach for a glass or feed oneself can further complicate the issue. A decline in cognitive function (confusion, poor memory, etc.) can also impact fluid intake.

“When the temperature rises, so does the risk of dehydration and hyperthermia for older adults,” said Mike Gentry, Senior Vice President of Care at Atria Senior Living.

“Unfortunately, dehydration is one of the more common reasons for hospitalization of seniors,” said Gentry. “They are at a greater risk because of health conditions, side effects from medications and physical impairments that make it more difficult to get to the kitchen for water. Making sure your family member drinks sufficient fluids is important any time of year, but especially so during the summer.”

Ultimately, it’s easier to prevent dehydration than treat the condition at a severe state. Understanding why dehydration occurs and implementing proactive, preventive measures can help ensure your aging family member stays hydrated and healthy.

“Don’t wait until an older adult says they are thirsty before offering them a drink,” added Gentry. “Instead, make sure he or she has a water bottle nearby at all times. Drinking small amounts throughout the day can be more effective than forcing down large quantities at once.

“Also consider limiting your family member’s intake of coffee and alcohol, as these have a diuretic effect. Replace caffeinated beverages with decaffeinated versions or offer alternatives such as water infused with electrolytes or vitamin-rich juice mixes,” said Gentry.

Watching for signs of dehydration can be challenging. Some signs show up clearly while others are more subtle. Often, it’s small, telltale signs that point to a larger problem, especially in older adults.

How do you know if your family member is dehydrated?

Although many symptoms of mild dehydration can easily go unnoticed, the most common signs of severe dehydration are weakness and confusion.

Other symptoms to watch for include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Reduced skin elasticity
  • Dizziness or headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Inability to sweat or produce tears
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low urine output
  • Dark urine
  • Constipation

If you suspect dehydration in an older adult, you can check for a decrease in skin elasticity by gently pulling up the skin on the back of their hand for a few seconds, then releasing. If the skin does not return to normal almost immediately, the person is probably dehydrated.

Tips to Help Hydrate

  1. Offer fluids on a regular basis throughout the day.
  2. Encourage eight ounces of fluid intake every time medication is taken.
  3. Keep water bottles and/or a water cooler in convenient locations to make hydration easier throughout the day (for example, next to the bed, on the patio, throughout the house or senior living community).
  4. Encourage using a reusable water bottle, pitcher or thermal container.
  5. Use water bottles with labeled ounces and determine a goal number of bottles to drink each day.

Understandably, older adults with urinary incontinence may shy away from drinking liquids. But, as the trained caregivers at Atria  know, it’s imperative older adults remain sufficiently hydrated throughout the day. This is why each community provides a 24-hour hospitality station for residents to access healthy refreshments, water and juices. Atria’s Engage Life® program also provides a variety of life-enriching, food-based events that encourage hydration.

Mike Gentry is the Senior Vice President of Care at Atria Senior Living. He has been with the company for 16 years and has more than 20 years of experience as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN). Gentry oversees resident care for Atria’s senior living communities across the United States, which includes: care policies and procedures, administrative oversight, compliance with state regulations and medication management.

Category: Caregiver Support
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