July 5, 2012

Dehydration for Seniors

Morrison,-Bob-colorBy Bob Morrison
Development Director of Ridgecrest Village

Summertime is great for outdoor activities. It is a great time to enjoy parks, walking paths, working in the yard, and joining others in outdoor fun. However, being out in the heat can also have devastating health effects from the sun.

We all know about using sun screen to minimize sun burn. But there are also issues with dehydration, and even heat exhaustion. Watching for signs of illness in a loved one can be challenging. Dehydration, depending on the severity, sometimes creates only small telltale signs while having a big effect on the body, especially in the elderly.

Dehydration occurs when a person loses more water than they take in. It takes an adequate amount of fluid for the body to function properly (per internet search.) Examples of benefits of hydrating are: sustaining body temperature through sweating, maintaining blood pressure, and eliminating bodily waste. If severe enough, dehydration can lead to confusion, weakness, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, bedsores in bed-ridden patients, or even death. In general, a human can survive for only about four days without any fluids.

Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day has been recommended, but this habit may be difficult to master. Wilma Nichol, 97-year-old resident of Ridgecrest Village, preaches, “never walk by a water fountain without taking a drink.”

One can gain the benefits of water through the foods they eat. A person’s diet can greatly affect hydration levels: fruits (especially watermelon), vegetables, and soups are mostly water-based.

Elderly dehydration can be noticed as early as age 50. Over 70, it is especially common:

• Some avoid water because of incontinence issues or concern for finding a bathroom
• Medications, such as for high blood pressure or anti-depressants, are diuretic
• Some medications may cause patients to sweat more
• One’s sense of thirst becomes less acute as they age
• Frail seniors have a harder time getting up to get a drink when they’re thirsty, or they rely on caregivers who can’t sense that they need fluids
• Our bodies lose kidney function as we age and are less able to conserve fluid
• Illness, especially one that causes vomiting and/or diarrhea, can cause elderly dehydration.

How do you know if you are dehydrated? Remember these simple ways to check:

1. Pinch the skin on the back of your hand. Watch how long it take for it to return to its normal position. Your body is dehydrated if it takes more than one or two seconds.
2. If your lips are dry, or you have a thirst from dry mouth.
3. The color of your urine is a good test. If the color is darker than light yellow, your body needs more water.

At Ridgecrest Village and other quality retirement programs, we pay attention to the good health of our people. As with most illnesses, prevention is the key. Making sure your loved one stays hydrated now is much easier than treating him or her for dehydration later.