The hot summer sun puts seniors at risk from heat more than any other time of the year. As we age, our bodies are less able to regulate environmental temperature changes for a variety of reasons. Heat illnesses are serious at any age but are of special concern to older adults because they are much more affected by summer heat.
Anyone can become dehydrated, but with older adults body fluid reserves become smaller, the ability to conserve water is reduced, and the thirst sense becomes less acute. Older adults may not feel thirsty until they are already dehydrated. These problems may be worsened by chronic illnesses such as dementia, diabetes and the use of certain medications. There may be mobility problems, making it difficult for an older adult to obtain water for themselves.
Studies have shown the aging population is at risk of inadequate fluid intake. Daily water needs depend on various factors like fluid losses and dietary composition. Estimating a daily fluid intake requirement may be complex. Health conditions such as congestive heart failure and kidney disease, or medication use (diuretics or laxatives), will greatly influence fluid needs.
Maintaining an adequate fluid intake is essential for proper function of the whole body. For the older adult, frequent dehydration can be fatal if un-diagnosed. Some of the health consequences associated with dehydration are constipation, acute confusion, impaired cognition, and falling.
Prevention of dehydration for older adults is primarily based on ensuring adequate fluid intake. Raising awareness with older adults, their families, and caregivers of the importance of dehydration risk factors is essential. Some strategies for encouraging fluids intake would be to offer fluids regularly during the day, provide liquids readily available all day, encourage consumption of fluids with medication, and provide a variety of beverages. Water is the first recommended fluid and should be the bulk of the daily intake. Milk, fruit juices and non-salty soups can be useful in providing variety to help ensure sufficient fluid intakes. Coffee and tea can have a diuretic effect and should be consumed in reasonable amounts. Alcoholic beverages are not recommended.
Typically, adults lose between 4 and 6 liters of water per day between the ages of 20 and 80 years of age. In the absence of severe symptoms, and when the situation allows, oral fluid repletion is the preferred therapy for dehydration in older adults. Dehydration prevention can be ensured by simple and effective measures, such as encouraging adequate fluid intake. Diagnosed dehydration requires a serious treatment. It can be largely avoided and reversed, if detected early.
The good news is preliminary research of incontinent nursing home residents indicated that the simple measure of verbal prompting to drink was found to increase fluid intake by 78%. Avoiding the consequences of dehydration is possible!