The signs of dehydration in elderly loved ones are very subtle and hard to detect. It is imperative that you remain alert and promptly recognize any changes.
Any sudden shift in the water balance of the body will ultimately result in dehydration. Aging individuals are at special risk because they might not know they are dehydrated, and their medical state could quickly lead to serious consequences.
Dehydration in Nursing Homes
You might think that the skilled and trained staff of the nursing home know the signs of dehydration, but you would be mistaken in many cases. One respected study found that out of 40 residents in a nursing home, only one was sufficiently hydrated.
Sadly, nursing home residents are often unable to get up and obtain their own water. They rely on the caregivers who are often too busy.
Dehydration has been found to be one of the most common forms of nursing home abuse. From 1999 to 2002 reports list 14,000 nursing home residents that died because of dehydration and malnutrition.
Dehydration at Home
Even if your aging loved one lives an independent life at home, they are still in danger of dehydration. It is important that you watch for signs before the condition becomes severe.
Dehydration refers to excessive water loss that wreaks havoc on the body’s normal function. It happens when the aging person starts to lose more water then they take in.
Here are a few ways that dehydration can occur at home:
- Heat: In extreme heat, dehydration can sneak up on a person without them even being aware. In many cases, an older person might be out in the heat gardening, walking the dog, or simply sitting and the excessive sweating causes dehydration to come on quickly.
- Medication: Side effects of certain blood pressure medications can cause dehydration.
- Lack of Thirst: Older people often don’t feel thirsty the way they once did in their youth, so they start to drink less. This is especially true of individuals suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
- Mobility Problems: Many seniors have a hard time moving around and getting up to get water.
- Kidney Function: Kidneys start to deteriorate with age and no longer conserve fluid.
- Swallowing Disorders: Stroke, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease all lead to swallowing disorders.
- Obesity: Obese individuals often struggle to get up and get water.
- Bedridden: If the person is unable to get up then they cannot obtain water without assistance, so they often hesitate to ask.
- Diarrhea, Excessive Sweating, and Vomiting: A bout of the flu, stomach bug, or pneumonia can lead to dehydration.
- Chronic Illnesses: Seniors suffering from several chronic illnesses are more susceptible to becoming dehydrated
- Incontinence: Many seniors will not drink proper amounts of liquid in order to avoid the embarrassment that comes with incontinence.
Increased Risks for Dehydration
Elderly individuals who suffer from dehydration are at an increased risk of the following:
- Kidney stones
- Urinary tract infection
- Respiratory infection
- Increased falls
Signs of Dehydration
Dehydration is sneaky. It can manifest in many physical conditions if it is only mild to moderate. However, severe dehydration can lead to death. In order to prevent most common signs of dehydration in elderly individuals:
- Confusion: Many people overlook confusion as a natural part of aging, but it can also be caused by dehydration. Confusion from dehydration often includes disorientation, dizziness, and difficulty getting around.
- Blood Pressure: A drop in blood pressure is a direct result of dehydration in many cases. There is usually a rapid heart rate and dizziness.
- Lack of Sweat: With severe dehydration, the person might not sweat or have tear production.
- Physical Changes: A dry mouth with sunken eyes.
- Skin that Lacks Bounce: If you pull up the skin on the back of the person’s hand and let go but it does not bounce back for several seconds then they could be suffering from dehydration.
- Trouble in the Bathroom: Constipation is common in those who are dehydrated. Urination might be minimal or absent. The color of the urine is usually dark which indicates a high concentration of contaminants and minerals because there is not adequate fluid in the person’s body to dilute it. Stool can also appear black or bloody.
- Exhaustion: The person might be extremely tired and irritable.
- Cramping: The legs and arms start to suffer cramping.
- Sleepy: Extreme sleepiness.
Severe Dehydration Symptoms
If the elderly individual suffers from any of the following symptoms you should seek immediate medical help at your local emergency room:
- Changes in blood pressure
- Bloated stomach
- Weak pulse
- Pounding headache
- Changes in respiration
Ways to Prevent Dehydration
There are several ways to prevent your loved one from becoming dehydrated. The best way to help an elderly person stay hydrated is to provide small amounts of fluid throughout the day and avoid having the person drink large amounts of water at one time, which can cause gastric upset. Ideally, they should drink five 8-ounch glasses of water every day.
To prevent dehydration in elderly individuals you can also:
- Avoid coffee, high-protein drinks, and alcohol which can all have a diuretic effect
- Provide milk, juices, and water with every meal
- Offer foods high in water such as fresh fruits, dairy products, and vegetables
- If the elderly person suffers incontinence, then provide ample drinks during the day and very limited liquid at night right before bed
Coping with Dehydration
Mild cases of dehydration are treated by drinking water or a hydration drink. Always make sure they have a bottle of water close by such as at the bedside or by their chair.
If the individual is in a nursing home or assisted care facility and you suspect that the elderly person is dehydrated, let the staff and physicians immediately. If they do not take steps to rectify the situation then contact the authorities.
Dehydration is easy to prevent and treat in the early stages. It is imperative that you remain vigilant and that you take rapid action.