How do I know if my senior loved one is dehydrated?

July 31st, 2019

By: Sharon Roth Maguire, MS, RN, GNP-BC Chief Clinical Quality Officer, BrightStar Care

Senior man drinking water outside to reduce symptoms of dehydrationSummer is here, and the temperatures are climbing. It also means the risk of dehydration rises for older adults.
 
Individuals 65 and older are at greater risk of heat-related illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adults who are overweight or have existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease; socially isolated people; and the poor are also at risk.
 
Dehydration in the summer heat can lead to health concerns such as heat stroke and heat stress, which are very common in the elderly. If you’re caring for a loved one, it’s important to know the signs of dehydration and how to keep them safe when it’s hot outside. 

Symptoms of dehydration in seniors

Your loved one becomes dehydrated when they use or lose more water than they take in. Without enough water, the body can’t function normally. As your loved one ages, their sense of thirst diminishes. Even when their body needs replenishing with water, they might not realize it.
 
According to the Mayo Clinic, some common signs of dehydration in an adult are:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Urinating less frequently

Many of these symptoms, such as dry mouth, fatigue, and dizziness, are non-specific and could be attributed to other medical conditions, medications, or natural effects of aging. Dehydration can lead to difficulty walking and confusion. In addition, when dehydrated, older adults may experience orthostatic hypotension – a drop in blood pressure when changing positions (e.g. from sitting to standing) – putting them at increased risk of falls.
 
It’s important to encourage your loved one to drink as much as possible. Older adults should drink six to eight cups of water daily. When it’s warm outside, they should avoid caffeinated beverages and sports drinks like Gatorade. Popsicles, Jell-O, and ice chips also can help your loved one stay hydrated. Sugar-free popsicles are available for people with diabetes. If your loved one is on a special diet, especially if fluids are restricted, ask a doctor how best to accommodate it.
 
Watch your loved one’s medications because they can increase the risk of dehydration. Diuretics, for example, while critical to treat certain medical conditions, can lead to an increased risk of dehydration. People with diabetes also need to be cautious as their risk of dehydration is even higher and comes with serious, life-threatening consequences. Consult your prescriber or pharmacist for more information regarding your medication regimen before making any changes.

Tips to help seniors stay cool

The CDC recommends having your loved one stay in an air-conditioned place during extreme heat. If they don’t have air conditioning at home, visiting the shopping mall or public library for a few hours can help their body stay cooler when they go back into the heat. Check with your local health department for heat-relief shelters in your area.
 
When temperatures climb into the 90s, fans may provide comfort, but they won’t prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or wearing loose, lightweight, and light-colored clothing will help your loved one stay cool. 
 
At BrightStar Care, a registered nurse oversees the care as well as provides education and support for not only the care team but the client and family as well. Our caregivers are happy to help keep an eye on your loved one’s overall health and keep them cool and hydrated.  
 
To learn how your loved one might benefit from in-home support and a nurse-led plan of care, call 866-618-7827 or contact a BrightStar Care® home care agency near you.