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Hydration for elderly people and the dangers of dehydration

Hydration is very important for the human body to function, 60 percent of our body is made of water! It is vital. However, the elderly struggle to stay hydrated as their bodies have difficulty retaining water.

Keypoints

  • Hydration is fundamental to a healthy mind and body

  • Water-rich foods is one of the best ways to hydrate yourself

  • Dehydration is becoming a big problem in aged care, with even the Aged Care Royal Commission highlighting that some aged care facilities are not mapping residents fluid charts appropriately

Woman holding a glass of water.
​Having adequate fluid in your body is important to continue pumping blood through to vital organs. [Source: Shutterstock]

Dehydration can have a much more deadly impact on an elderly person and effects the brain’s functioning ability. 

Being well hydrated has an impact on exercise, which can increase endurance, lower the heart rate and improve our bodies recovery time, while also encouraging and enhancing positive moods.

Since appetite and activity decreases in our older years, it can be difficult to encourage ourselves to keep hydrated. 

And through natural daily activities, adults lose up to nearly 2.5 litres of water a day. So it is important to monitor how much water you drink throughout the day.

A study from 2017, Hydration health literacy in the elderly, found that 60 percent of participants overestimated how much fluid it takes for moderate-severe dehydration symptoms to occur.

Additionally, the research showed that many of the elderly participants did not have good hydration literacy to identify if they were dehydrated.

The authors of the research, Dominic Picetti, Stephen Foster, Amanda Pangle, Amy Schrader, Masil George, Jeanne Wei, and Gohar Azhar, say, “Our study demonstrated that there were significant deficiencies in hydration health literacy among elderly. 

“Appropriate education and attention to hydration may improve quality of life, reduce hospitalisations and the economic burden related to hydration-associated morbidity and mortality.”

Signs of dehydration

Having adequate fluid in your body is important to continue pumping blood through to vital organs.

There are a few easy to notice signs of dehydration that you should take note of. Especially because dehydration can lead to more serious medical episodes.

The most common signs or side effects of dehydration include:

  • Fatigue or lethargy

  • Muscle weakness and cramps

  • Cracked lips

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea

  • Forgetfulness and confusion

  • Deep rapid breathing or an increased heart rate or low blood pressure

  • Sunken eyes

  • Dry or sticky mucus around and in the mouth

  • Low urination

  • Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

The more serious medical episodes from dehydration include:

  • Psychosis or Delirium (most common causes of delirium is dehydration and infection, a UTI is considered an infection)

  • Can lead to heat injuries including heat stroke

  • Urinary and Kidney problems

  • Seizures

  • Low blood volume shock (hypovolemic shock)

  • Extreme dehydration can lead to death

Tips to improve your hydration

If drinking water is too difficult, attempt to swap straight water with alternatives.

To encourage hydration, instead drink cordials (mixed in with water), fruit or vegetable juices, and change up the temperature of drinks (like non-caffeinated tea or cooling homemade lemonade).

Avoid driving caffeinated drinks and alcohol, as they can dehydrate you.

Keep a journal to track your fluid intake or even set a reminder on your phone to drink water, it can give you the kick you need to rehydrate.

Additionally, a lot of our consumption of water comes from a variety of fruit and vegetables. Eating water-rich foods can be another way to keep your hydration at steady levels. For example, cucumbers are 96 percent water, and other vegetables, like tomato, spinach, broccoli and brussel sprouts are also water-rich.

Even if you don’t feel thirsty, if you haven’t consumed water for a while it might be a good idea to take a break and get a drink. By the time you’re thirsty, your body is already dehydrated.

Dementia and hydration challenges

When it comes to an older person with dementia, it can be a lot more difficult to manage appropriate hydration levels.

Water is incredibly important to prevent behavioural changes, delirium and depression in people with dementia.

However, a person with dementia is likely to forget to drink, or may even lose the ability to drink.

Not only that, it’s easy for a person with dementia to be dehydrated, if they are taking medication, it could be causing a diuretic effect.

The later stages of dementia also makes it difficult for an older person to swallow. This is called dysphagia. An older person may choke water or be unable to swallow it. A speech pathologist can help with these dysphagia issues.

Lastly, if dementia has progressed far enough that the individual has lost their mobility or their ability to communicate, they may be unable to explain they need water or go to someone who can provide them with water.

​​Hydration in aged care

Poor hydration management has been highlighted as a problem within aged care at the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety last year.

Commissioners have heard cases of facilities not managing hydration charts of residents within their care properly or at all.

All aged care facilities should be carefully managing their residents’ intake of food, medication and hydration.

For older people with cognitive impairment or other ailments, it is important for a hydration chart to be used and closely monitored by care staff.

Care staff should also be offering residents drinks with their medication, during food service, during nursing home activities, and on many other occasions.

Additionally, if a resident needs more help, care staff should be able to provide modified cups to make sure a resident can retain their independence. 

Do you believe you can tell when you are hydrated? Tell us what lets you know you are dehydrated below.

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