By Dr. Ritu Krishnatreye, BHMS
Dehydration in the elderly
Although anyone can suffer from dehydration, certain individuals, including the elderly, are at higher risk.
One reason is that detecting dehydration in the elderly can be a bit challenging. Some of the signs of dehydration could be shrugged off as part of the normal aging process.
Dehydration in senior adults should not be taken lightly. It can cause bodily harm, and if it isn’t dealt with, may even be fatal.
Water is a major component of blood. Dehydration makes the heart work harder.
The ability of the blood to carry nutrients and oxygen is reduced, which can leave an individual feeling tired and weak.
The body uses water to help keep it cool. When body fluid levels get too low, the body finds it difficult to release heat. This, in turn, can cause headaches in the elderly.
A lack of water and salt electrolytes in the body also affect the activity of the brain, which can result in light-headedness.
Water acts as a natural lubricant to minimize friction between bones and joints. With body fluid gets low, it can cause an increase of friction in joints, resulting in joint pain.
Another common aspect of dehydration is the loss of magnesium salts from the body. Magnesium plays an important role in maintaining healthy nerve transmission and muscle function. A lack of magnesium can result in muscle cramps.
One of the major reasons for dehydration in the elderly is medications. Most senior adults suffer from hypertension or some other health condition, and take numerous medications.
Hypertension medications, diuretics and anti-depressants can cause excessive urination, leading to dehydration.
Studies have found that the perception of thirst tends to decline as we get older.
As a result, senior adults tend to drink less water, which may lead to dehydration.
To overcome this problem:
With advancing age, the kidneys have less of an ability to conserve fluid.
The only answer to this it to take in more fluids each day.
Many senior adults have a decrease in mobility, making it less convenient to get up and get something to drink. This is especially true of those who are frail or not feeling well.
These senior citizens rely on their caregivers. Unfortunately, some caregivers may not understand the extra attention that should be given to keep senior adults properly hydrated.
Dehydration is not just characterized by a loss of water from the body, but may also include a loss of electrolytes.
When the body loses fluid from diarrhea, vomiting or sweating, electrolytes are carried away with the fluid, and need replaced.
Severe dehydration can occur when the body is deprived of important electrolyte minerals like potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and chlorine. These minerals are essential for various biochemical reactions in the body.
When the brain doesn't have sufficient electrolytes, the shortage inhibits the secretion of the Anti-diuretic hormone, which is the hormone secreted by pituitary gland that is essential for maintaining a proper balance of fluids in the body.
For proper re-hydration, it is necessary to replenish lost electrolytes.
Dehydration and constipation go hand in hand in older adults. In fact, dehydration is one of the major causes of constipation.
Properly interpreting the symptoms of dehydration in the elderly can be challenging. Their dehydration symptoms can often be viewed as a part of the aging process.
However, dehydration can turn into a serious medical condition when not addressed properly.
Educating seniors and long term care givers helps in preventing the development of serious medical complications. Stay hydrated by drinking water and other non-caffeinated beverages.