The human body is made up of nearly two-thirds water, so it’s no surprise that it’s important to consume enough water for your body to function properly.
Water plays a leading role in maintaining energy levels, removing waste from the body, lubricating your joints and distributing nutrients, as well as aiding concentration and focus. To enable elderly people to remain healthy, staying hydrated is therefore very important.
Why do older people in particular need to stay hydrated?
As we age, staying hydrated becomes even more important to keep our bodies functioning normally. More than eighty ounces of water is lost from our bodies daily just through day-to-day activities. Elderly people are in one of the highest risk groups for dehydration, with inadequate fluids being one of the most frequent causes of hospitalisation for senior citizens.
Benefits of staying hydrated
Water is essential for staying healthy and without it we would cease to exist. Staying hydrated has many benefits that help to improve everything from our body’s appearance to our mental functionality.
Here are some of the biggest benefits of keeping our bodies hydrated.
Carries nutrients and medications to cells
Water helps to break down food so that your body can absorb essential nutrients such as glucose, minerals and vitamins. Water also transports some medications throughout your body.
Helps to cleanse the body
Water is needed for producing sweat and the removal of urine and faeces from the body. It also aids with combating constipation and reducing urinary tract infections.
Boosts brain function
Studies have shown that those who consume more water have healthier minds. The brain is mainly comprised of water so staying hydrated is important for mental function. As we age, it is common for mental processes to slow down so it becomes essential for elderly people to stay hydrated.
Keeps your body cool
When the body heats up, water that is stored underneath the skin comes to the surface as sweat. As the sweat evaporates, it cools the body. When there is not enough water in the body, heat storage increases and we are less able to endure higher temperatures.
Common causes of dehydration for elderly people
Dehydration means your body is losing more fluids than it is taking in. If the fluids lost are not replaced, then the body will become dehydrated. Usually, by the time we feel thirsty, we are already mildly dehydrated.
If dehydration is not treated, it can get worse and become a serious problem. The elderly are more at risk of dehydration with some of the most common causes of dehydration being:
If we’re thirsty we just turn on the tap or grab a bottle of water from the fridge. However, getting a drink isn’t always as easy for elderly people as they often rely on others for assistance – especially if they have mobility issues.
Some elderly people have underlying health conditions and need to take medication. It’s common for some medications to cause an increase in water loss through urination.
Lowered thirst response
When you feel thirsty it’s your body’s way of signalling to you that you need to drink water. However, as we age, the thirst response becomes weaker and many elderly adults may not realise that they need to drink fluids.
Decline in body fluid
Our body’s water percentage naturally decreases as we grow older. Since elderly people already have less water in their bodies, staying hydrated is of greater importance.
Signs that you may be dehydrated
The following symptoms are common signs that could suggest that an individual is dehydrated.
- Feeling thirsty, dizzy, tired or confused
- Dry mouth, lips or tongue
- Passing urine less often than usual
- Passing urine that is dark coloured
- Sunken eyes and dry skin
However, these can often be due to other conditions in older people such as normal age-related changes and the side effects of medication.
How to prevent dehydration in elderly people
If you think you may be dehydrated, you need to rehydrate your body by drinking fluids. For mild dehydration, drinking water may be all that’s needed. Remember, that it’s better to drink small amounts throughout the day rather than trying to drink a large amount in one sitting.
- Have between 6 and 8 drinks per day.
- If you take medication, take it with a full glass of water
- Keep a water bottle with you and take sips throughout the day
- Eat food that has high levels of water
- Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them – these make urination more frequent
What drinks are good for dehydration?
Water is the best and most healthy option for hydrating. Drinking plenty of water means there is no risk of tooth decay, weight gain or serious illnesses, such as type-2 diabetes.
Fruit and vegetable juices are not only delicious and high in nutrients but they will also help to keep you hydrated. However, try to refrain from drinking too much fruit juice as it can be high in calories due to the sugar content which not only contributes to tooth decay but also obesity.
Milk is a good option for hydration as it contains many nutrients including calcium which is essential for keeping teeth and bones healthy.
Many fruits and vegetables such as cucumber, courgettes, tomatoes and melon are made up of over 90% water and make a considerable contribution to our overall fluid intake.
How to encourage better hydration in the elderly
Ensuring an elderly patient, parent or friend stays hydrated can be a daily struggle but there are some ways to help seniors get the daily fluids they need. Hydration for older people can be easily managed by:
- Offering drinks more frequently
- Making sure fluids are available all day
- Giving water when they take their medication
- Increasing water intake on hot days
- Getting a carer to make daily visits to give reminders
If you have additional questions or concerns about your elderly loved ones and their wellbeing, you can contact ConnectAbility Australia on 02 4962 1000. We offer a number of in-home aged care support options to help senior citizens in the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens areas to live more independent and healthy lives.