It is recommended to drink between 1.5 and 2 liters of water daily. But for seniors, this is often a difficult task. And this is problematic, because older adults, in particular, should drink more to prevent dehydration and to be able to continue to regulate their body temperature.
Water is vital
Water and fluid are vital for our body to function well. Fluid regulates our body temperature, helps dissolve nutrients so that they are absorbed by the intestine, and plays a role in the transport of nutrients and waste materials in the blood. The female body is 52 percent liquid, the male body is 63 percent.
Consequences of drinking too little in seniors
We lose fluid through breathing, sweating, urination, and bowel movements. It is therefore important to regularly refuel in liquid and especially water to avoid dehydration. The latter, beyond the feeling of thirst, can be the cause of conditions such as fatigue, muscle pain, and exhaustion.
Not drinking regularly is particularly problematic for seniors for a few reasons:
- After a certain age, the feeling of thirst is felt later than in a young adult. Due to this, seniors are particularly exposed to the risk of dehydration as they tend to drink later than they should.
- The water needs of the elderly are higher than those of the typical adult and rise to 1.7 liters/day after 65 years. Not drinking enough will lead to a water shortage in the body, leading to dehydration as well.
- According to a study from the University of Ottawa, the older we get, the harder it becomes to regulate our body temperature. If seniors do not drink enough, the body is not able to compensate for this. The consequence is that the heart has to work particularly hard and this in turn is detrimental to the organ.
The reason why seniors drink less proportionately is their reduced feeling of thirst. In addition, they often eat less, and this also influences the fluid balance, because we also absorb liquid through food. According to specialists, seniors need to be especially vigilant, because kidney function decreases with age. The kidneys need more fluid to excrete the waste materials through the urine. If someone then still takes medications that affect the fluid balance, such as diuretic agents to reduce blood pressure, then there is a risk of dehydration. Even those who take other blood pressure-lowering drugs should be careful. A lack of fluids can lower blood pressure even further. As a result, dizziness and falls are inevitable.
It should also be noted that the regulation between the entry and exit of liquids (breathing, perspiration, urine, stool, etc.) is no longer done in the same way as we get older. This is especially true in people who are isolated, tired, and depressed. Loneliness and low morale affect diet and therefore hydration.
Finally, the elderly are more susceptible to infections and intestinal problems. They often have fever attacks and frequently suffer from diabetes. To this, we should also add that the absorption of certain drugs can sometimes promote water loss. Each of us must therefore know how to pay attention.
Causes of dehydration in seniors
Dehydration, especially in the elderly, can be the result of:
- Of an oversight. The elderly person simply did not feel thirsty.
- Abnormal water loss due to fever, heatwave, vomiting, intense activity, diabetes.
- The elderly person no longer recognizes the signs of thirst due to depression, confusion, disorientation.
- A loss of autonomy for the elderly, a decrease in strength.
- Environmental causes such as loss of reference points, outside temperature in summer, heating in winter.
- A disease such as Alzheimer’s disease (loss of reflex to drink, loss of bearings and loss of memory) or a condition such as urinary incontinence, diarrhea, fever, vomiting
- Neurological problems: handicap, paralysis, swallowing disorder, dysphagia.
- Medical treatments or drugs (diuretics, laxatives, etc.).
These causes can cause dehydration or make it worse. It is therefore important that the elderly hydrate regularly. The most common and significant sign of dehydration: being thirsty. This means that the elderly person is already dehydrated.
Symptoms of dehydration in seniors
In the elderly, dehydration will be visible by:
- Decreased attention, dryness of the mucous membranes in the mouth, severe fatigue.
- Decreased production of sweat and urine
- Fever for no obvious reason, headache
- The acceleration of the pulse
- Dizziness as a consequence of low blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Significant weight loss over a short period
It is important to react quickly, dehydration can lead to convulsions or even disorders of consciousness such as coma in the elderly.
Prevent dehydration in the elderly
You will understand that when it comes to hydration in seniors, the key message is to act upstream. But what are the solutions to recharge your reserves and avoid worries? Here are some basic tips:
- Seniors should not wait until they are thirsty to hydrate themselves.
- According to current guidelines, it is good to drink between 1.5 and 2 liters of liquid daily, but for seniors over 65, two liters are recommended.
- Start the day with a glass of water.
- Drink throughout the day to avoid having to drink a lot all at once.
- Seniors should adjust their water consumption in summer: drink 2L rather than the usual 1.7L. However, beware of overheated interiors in winter!
- Schedule fixed drinking times during the day.
- Seniors (and anyone) should yourself before, during and after any physical activity.
- Opt for water at room temperature so that the body can absorb it more quickly. Indeed, water that is too cool will have to stay a little longer in the stomach to reach 37 °C, the body temperature.
- Finally, remember that pure water is a guarantee of good hydration. Indeed, all liquids are not created equal. Thus, sodas are too sweet and less hydrating, while tea or coffee will take you to the bathroom more often, causing you to lose your mineral salts.
An fitness addict passionate of all things nature and animals, Angie often volunteers her time to NGOs and governmental organizations alike working with animals in general and endangered species in particular. She covers stories on wildlife and the environment for the Scientific Origin.