My father has had one UTI after another this year. His physician wants him to drink more water, but that is easier said than done. Is this just a problem in my family, or do other families struggle with seniors and dehydration?” –Gloria from Powder Springs

When it comes to seniors and dehydration, you are not alone. As people age, their bodies do not retain as much water, which means fluid and electrolyte loss can happen quickly. Elderly people may not feel thirsty or may not recognize those cues because of dementia. If your loved one has incontinence, he or she may limit fluid intake intentionally. Seniors may have difficulty with mobility, which may also affect their ability to get water when they need it. Even certain medications can have a diuretic effect. Dehydration can also be caused by bowel problems or malnutrition, which can affect seniors at a higher rate than the general population.

As you can see, there may be several barriers that can be easily overlooked by family members or caregivers; with so many other concerns and responsibilities that require your attention, you may not realize that your loved one is not getting enough to drink. Urinary tract infections can happen before you know it and can be one of the common causes of emergency room visits for elderly people. Here is helpful information for you to identify dehydration in your senior as well as how you can prevent it.

What to Look For

It is important for you or a caregiver to know the signs of dehydration before they become severe. Mild dehydration symptoms include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Thirst
  • Dry skin that has lost elasticity
  • Decreased urination
  • Leg cramps
  • Dark urine
  • Headaches
  • Sleepiness
  • Weakness

These minor signs of dehydration can escalate quickly to more severe symptoms, such as the following:

  • Severe muscle cramps
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing
  • Lack of sweat
  • Confusion or delirium

A trip to the doctor can help identify the cause and severity of dehydration, but you should not wait to see a doctor if severe signs are present; instead, a trip to an urgent care facility or emergency room may be warranted for seniors and dehydration.

Dehydration can be a one-time thing, but more often than not, it can become a chronic issue for many seniors. If ignored, dehydration can even lead to kidney failure, constipation or intestinal failure, high blood pressure, brain swelling, and seizures. Luckily, you, along with your senior’s medical providers and caregiver, can take preventative steps to protect your loved one with adequate hydration.

What You Can Do

The first line of defense is to drink more, but with some seniors, that is easier said than done. You can try some of these tricks to sneak more fluids into your loved one’s daily habits:

  • Try flavored waters or diluted fruit juice as an alternative to plain water
  • Add water-heavy fruits and vegetables during meals and snacks, such as berries in yogurt or milkshakes and smoothies between meals
  • Offer broth, pudding, gelatin, or popsicles as another option throughout the day
  • Place a water pitcher or insulated cup within easy reach of your senior
  • Limit coffee or tea, which may be dehydrating because of the caffeine, or, better yet, switch to decaf to avoid the diuretic effect of caffeine
  • Ask a caregiver or aide at a residential facility to monitor fluid intake and output

There may be another form of relief on the horizon: jelly drops. These edible pods were created with seniors in mind, especially those with dementia, and are still in the research and development stage. Jelly drops may be one of the smartest inventions designed for seniors and dehydration, and, hopefully, will be available globally before too long.

As we approach the winter months, you should still be on the lookout for signs of dehydration, especially because gas and electric heat and lower humidity can make stay hydrated a big concern. We tend to think of dehydration as a heat-related issue, but for seniors, it can be a concern any time of year.

Best of luck!


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