Dehydration in Older Adults

Why Older Adults Become Dehydrated

A significant change we experience as we get older is how our bodies handle water. Dehydration in older adults is very common. Here’s why: When we’re young, our bodies are about 78% water, but as we age, it drops to around 52–55%. This change is due to a decrease in muscle (which holds a lot of water) and an increase in fat cells (which don’t).

Another change we may experience is that we might not feel thirsty as much as we should. Just like our eyesight and hearing, our sense of thirst can get a little dull with age. Since most of us are not in the habit of focusing on or tracking our water intake, this means we might not drink enough water to meet our bodies’ needs. And that can lead to dehydration.

Dehydration Can Spell Trouble

Dehydration is no joke, especially for older adults. It can lead to many health problems, like urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and even constipation. And if it gets really bad, it can cause more serious problems like kidney failure and heatstroke. It can also make thinking clearly more difficult. Some studies show that dehydration can make dementia symptoms worse and increase hospital stays for older adults.

Additionally, not having enough water in our bodies can make our hearts work harder. Our blood volume drops when we’re dehydrated, and our heart has to pump harder to get oxygen and nutrients to our cells. Over time, this can lead to heart problems like high blood pressure and stroke.

Despite all these risks, dehydration is often overlooked in older adults because its symptoms can be mistaken for other health issues. That’s why it’s so important to understand these risks, be able to spot dehydration early and take steps to prevent it—especially during the hot summer months when dehydration is more likely to happen.

Tips for Staying Hydrated

water pitcher and 2 glasses with orange and lemon slices

So, we’ve talked about the risks of dehydration, but what can we do about it? Here are some practical tips for staying hydrated, especially during the warmer months.

Have a Goal

First, it’s essential to have a daily goal for water intake. While the “8 glasses a day” rule is pretty well-known, it might not be enough for everyone. A more personalized approach could be to drink at least half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water every day. So, if you weigh 160 pounds, aim for at least 80 ounces of water daily.

Include Foods

But don’t worry—you don’t have to drink all that water. Food can also help keep you hydrated. There are lots of delicious fruits and veggies, like cucumbers, oranges, and watermelon that are full of water and can be a refreshing snack during the summer. Soups and broths also count towards your daily hydration goals and can be a comforting choice for cooler days.

Avoid Coffee and Alcohol

Herbal teas and milk are also good options. But keep in mind that coffee and alcoholic drinks can make you lose more water than you take in, so it’s best to enjoy them in moderation.

Make Hydration a Habit

One of the biggest tricks to staying hydrated is simply making it a habit. Keep a water bottle nearby and sip on it throughout the day. Setting reminders on your phone or using a hydration-tracking app can also be helpful to make sure you’re drinking enough.

Caregivers: use this Daily Care Planner Worksheet to track your loved one’s water intake.

Recognize the Signs

Recognizing the signs of dehydration is crucial. If you feel thirsty, you’re already a bit dehydrated. Other signs include feeling tired, having a dry mouth, or noticing your urine is darker than usual. If you experience these signs, it’s important to drink some fluids and, if the symptoms persist, seek medical attention.

Additional Considerations

sitting person holding a pill and a glass of water

While we’ve already covered a lot about staying hydrated, there are a few extra things older adults should consider.

Medications Can Affect Hydration

Some medications can affect our bodies’ hydration levels. Diuretics, for example, often used to treat high blood pressure, can make us pee more and lose water faster. If you’re on any medications, it’s a good idea to chat with your doctor about how they might impact your hydration and if you need to adjust your water intake.

Other Health Concerns

Certain health conditions can also affect hydration. People with kidney disease or heart failure might need to limit their fluid intake, while those with conditions like diabetes might need more. It all depends on your individual situation, so it’s always best to talk with your healthcare provider about what’s right for you.

Staying Cool

Staying cool in hot weather is also crucial to prevent dehydration. Try to limit time spent outside during the hottest part of the day, usually between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Use fans or air conditioning when possible, and remember to take breaks and cool down if you’re doing any physical activity.

Dressing in lightweight, loose clothing can help keep you cool. And don’t forget about sun protection; sunburn can make your body lose fluids faster.

Hydration is about balance. It’s not just about drinking water but also ensuring our bodies can hold onto that water as well. Remember, every person is different, and what works for one might not work for another. So, always pay attention to your body, and don’t hesitate to seek professional advice if you’re unsure.

Disclaimer: The content on this site is meant for general informational purposes and should not be considered professional advice. While we strive for accuracy, we recommend consulting experts for specific guidance. We are not responsible for any decisions made based on this information.

Liz Craven
Liz Craven

Liz Craven, co-publisher of Sage Aging ElderCare Guide alongside her husband Wes, brings a blend of personal experience and heartfelt dedication to her work. Their path in eldercare started with a family story — caring for Wes' grandmother, Mabel, who faced Alzheimer's. This personal chapter not only highlighted the complexities of eldercare but also ignited their passion to support others in similar situations. Later, Liz and Wes filled the caregiver role three more times for their parents. Through the Sage Aging ElderCare Guide, Liz offers a mix of empathetic insight and practical advice, making eldercare more approachable and less daunting for families. Her commitment shines through in every piece of advice, aiming to ease the journey for others as they navigate the world of eldercare.

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