Summer provides a wonderful opportunity for families to spend time together. At the same time, the summer heat can cause dehydration and heat stroke, particularly in the elderly, whose bodies cannot regulate temperature changes or store enough water as efficiently as they once did. Dehydration can lead to several other health complications such as urinary tract infections (UTIs), heat stroke, heart problems, kidney failure, and blood clots. Families and caregivers need to be very attentive in proactively discovering the early signs and symptoms of dehydration in seniors.
Most Common Signs of Dehydration in Elderly
The signs and symptoms of dehydration in elderly people vary depending on the person’s age and overall health status. The elderly population are at greater risk for dehydration because they are often less able to recognize or report dehydration signs and symptoms. Some common signs that indicate dehydration include:
- Dry mouth
- Fatigue, dizziness, light-headedness
- Decreased urine output
- Muscle cramps
- Decreased skin elasticity
- Increased heart rate
Main Causes of Dehydration in the Older Adults
- Vomiting and diarrhea: When the body cannot absorb enough water from the intestines, this can lead to dehydration.
- Decreased Muscle Mass: The muscle mass that stores a significant amount of water in the body decreases with age, affecting seniors’ ability to store enough water in their bodies.
- Not drinking enough fluids: When a person doesn’t drink enough fluids for a prolonged period of time, dehydration will occur as well.
- Chronic Health Conditions: Elderly people are more likely to have chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. These health conditions can make them lose fluids which also may result in dehydration.
- Medications: Medications can also increase the elderly’s risk of dehydration. Those who take diuretics, in particular, should drink plenty of water. It is even more complicated among those who have multiple conditions and take multiple medications.
- Weather: Summer heat is one of the leading causes of dehydration in seniors. When the temperature is high, it can cause heat stress among the elderly population.
Detecting Dehydration Early in Seniors
The hydration needs of every individual are different and also vary from day to day for each person. The following are important things to notice to find whether the seniors are getting sufficient water or not.
Urine: Urination flushes out the extra water and other waste products from the body. A dehydrated person urinates less often and the urine looks more concentrated. The dark yellow, amber, or brown color of the urine is a clear indication of dehydration.
Bowel movements: Bowel is another important factor to find whether the person is dehydrated or not. Without enough water in the body, it tries to save the water by limiting its passage. Hence, a dehydrated person finds it difficult to pass the stool as it becomes dry and firm. So, observing the bowel movements of the seniors helps the caregivers to recognize the hydration levels and take the appropriate steps.
Skin and mouth moisture: Observe the skin and inside of the mouth as they are the easiest places to detect dehydration in elders. Press the skin on the hand gently and see if it restores quickly. If it takes a long time to snap back, it is a sign of dehydration. Also take a look at the lips to see if they look creased and/or cracked. Watch for these conditions to quickly detect dehydration in seniors and take measures to hydrate them.
Sunken Eyes: The sensitive skin around the eyes is thinner and any changes are quickly visible. If they look sunken it is a clear sign of dehydration. Besides, dehydrated people’s eyes become sensitive to light and have a burning and gritty sensation.
How to Prevent Dehydration
There are many ways to keep the elderly hydrated. Follow the below steps to prevent dehydration in them in the care settings or at home.
Keep Water Available Always: It is the first step to prevent dehydration in seniors. Keep the water in reach of them all the time and encourage them to take frequent sips even if they are not thirsty.
Provide Alternative Fluids: If a senior doesn’t relish drinking plain water, there are other ways to help them stay hydrated. Offer them a variety of cold or hot fluids such as clear broth, fruit juices, puddings, and other flavored healthy drinks. Avoid beverages such as coffee, tea, soda, and alcohol as they increase dehydration.
Feed Hydrating Foods: Our bodies also get hydrated through the foods we eat. It is important to add fruits high in water to the regular diets of the seniors. Watermelons, oranges, peaches and berries are all packed with good amounts of water. Vegetables such as; cucumbers, lettuce, celery and zucchini are also great sources of water. Soups can also help to hydrate the body. However, make sure there isn’t too much salt or sugar.
Track Water Intake: Due to technological advancements, it is possible to track the water intake of seniors. Use a sports bottle with measurements to keep track of their daily water intake. There are also water tracking apps and wearable devices that can help determine whether an elderly person’s body is adequately hydrated or not.
When should you seek medical support?
Mild dehydration can be treated at home or in a medical facility with IV fluids that can replenish the body with electrolytes and other minerals. Seek medical support immediately if the seniors have the following conditions:
- Acute Diarrhea
- Frequent vomiting
- Blood or mucus in diarrhea
- Blood in vomit
- Belly pain
Summer poses unique health risks for older adults, making them more vulnerable to dehydration and heat stroke. It is very important to take precautions to keep them healthy by providing everything they need to celebrate the summer solstice. Explore the resources and follow the safety tips to keep your loved ones cool from the sweltering summer heat.
If you need help in taking care of your loved one at home, consider Assured Home Nursing’s specialized care services that offer optimum support for seniors to age well in their homes. Please call us @ 248-593-8134.