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Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration in Elderly

It’s important to check in with seniors in your family and community to ensure they have everything they need to stay safe and healthy, especially during harsh winter months. Many seniors may be unable to get the provisions they need when temperatures dip below freezing or during inclement weather. They’re also more likely to suffer colds and sore throats, which can lead to water loss (through a runny nose, sweating or fever) and dehydration. Dehydration happens when your body loses more fluids than it takes in.

The sensation of thirst naturally decreases with age, as does the amount of water the body retains. This puts seniors at a higher risk for dehydration. Chronic problems with urinary incontinence may also lead to reluctance to drink adequate fluids. Other common causes of dehydration in seniors may be related to memory or mobility problems.

Early signs and symptoms of dehydration in seniors

Early signs of dehydration in the elderly include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Sunken eyes
  • Decreased urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Loss of balance
  • Muscle cramping

More severe dehydration symptoms require immediate medical attention and include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty moving or walking
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Fainting
  • Diarrhea or vomiting that lasts more than 24 hours

If dehydration is left untreated, it can lead to serious complications like urinary tract infections, kidney stones, kidney failure, seizures, heatstroke, heat exhaustion or hypovolemic shock.

How to help seniors stay hydrated at home?

Unless you know what to look for, it can be difficult to identify the early warning signs of dehydration. The good news is hydration can be avoided with these quick tips:

  • Encourage fluids
    Encourage the elderly people in your life to drink often and regularly. You can do this by ensuring they have access to fresh water at all times. Keep a refillable water bottle within reach, especially if they have mobility issues. If they don’t enjoy drinking plain water, experiment by adding different fruits like limes, lemons, berries, cucumbers or even mint to find one they like. You can also try coconut water.
  • Discourage caffeinated beverages, sugary drinks and alcohol
    These beverages can actually contribute to and speed up the dehydration process.
  • Suggest breathable fabrics
    Fabrics like cotton and linen allow the body to sweat and breathe naturally, whereas polyester-based fabrics, rayon and jeans hold in body heat and inhibit the body’s ability to cool itself.
  • Remind them to take frequent breaks

If your loved one enjoys participating in activities, encourage them to take frequent rest breaks to conserve energy and drink water.

  • Offer plenty of fruits and vegetables
    Foods like watermelon, peaches, grapefruit, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers contain large amounts of water to help with hydration.
  • Act on early signs of dehydration
    Now that you know early warning signs of dehydration, you can offer them water, coconut water or a sugar-free sports drink to quickly replenish their electrolytes.
  • Familiarize yourself with their medications

Stay mindful of medications that can actually hasten dehydration, like diuretics, and increase their normal fluid intake as needed.

What are treatment options for dehydration?

When you or someone you love is moderately or severely dehydrated, the best course of action is to replace the lost fluids as quickly as possible. That means visiting your local urgent care or doctor’s office for fluid replacement via intravenous injection or IV fluid hydration. These fluids often contain important electrolytes like potassium, sodium and glucose, which help your body function normally. An IV fluid drip involves injecting a saline-based electrolyte solution directly into your bloodstream via a small catheter, bypassing the digestive tract. This means the fluids can begin to nourish your body immediately.

You may need to hydrate with water, sports drinks or clear broth in addition to IV fluid hydration to maximize hydration. If you need help with getting fluids to a senior in your family or community, visit Coastal Urgent Care of Ruston. We are open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 7 pm and Saturday through Sunday from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. for walk-in appointments. One of our experienced medical professionals will determine the best rehydration treatment for your loved one and help them feel better as soon as possible.