Water is essential for almost every bodily function, from controlling our body temperature to pumping blood to our heart. Hydration is essential at every age, but it becomes more of a concern the older we get. Hydration in older adults is vital for several reasons. As we age, our sense of thirst begins to diminish. Unless we become mindful of our fluid intake, we risk becoming dehydrated.
What is Dehydration?
Dehydration is when we lose more fluids than we consume. There is the misconception that we’re only dehydrated when we’re thirsty. Unfortunately, thirst is not always an indicator that you’re dehydrated and need to take a drink. There are several other signs that can warn you that you need to take action and hydrate. The most common symptoms of dehydration in older adults include:
- Dark-colored urine, urinating less frequently
- Fatigue, or feeling weak
- Rapid heart rate and low blood pressure
- Muscle cramps in arms or legs
- Dry mouth
- Dry skin and lips
- Confusion, decreased cognitive function
How Much Water Do You Need To Stay Hydrated?
The best way to prevent dehydration is to simply drink more throughout the day. How much more? According to the American Heart Association, the amount of water each person needs can vary. It depends on several factors, including climatic conditions, clothing worn, and exercise intensity and duration.
In general, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggest that each day women get a total of about 2.7 liters (L), or 11 cups, of fluid and men get about 3.7 L (16 cups). It’s best to discuss your fluid intake with your doctor. They can review your medical history and conditions and then determine your specific needs. Not all fluid has to be water, however. Your morning coffee counts toward your fluid consumption for the day.
Why Is Hydration So Important in Older Adults?
As previously mentioned, seniors lose their proper sense of thirst the older they get making hydration in older adults sometimes a challenge. This not only leads to dehydration but can lead to a host of other complications.
- Kidney Function – Extreme dehydration for an extended period of time can cause severe damage to the kidneys. Your kidneys are responsible for filtering out waste from the blood via urine. In addition, the kidneys help manage the balance of electrolytes and salts in the blood. When the renal system is compromised or shuts down, toxins begin to build up in the blood. Electrolytes and fluid also build up in the body, causing swelling. Severe renal failure results in severe illness or even death.
- Urinary Incontinence – It may sound counterintuitive to drink more when you cannot control your bladder. Many seniors actually avoid drinking in an attempt to prevent these embarrassing moments. However, dehydration only compounds the problem even more. A reduction in fluids can lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTI is one of the most commonly diagnosed infections in older adults. When left untreated, UTIs in older adults can cause serious complications, including kidney damage and sepsis. If you suffer from urinary incontinence, it may be embarrassing, but it is vital that you stay well hydrated. You should consult your doctor for possible treatment methods for your incontinence.
- Digestion – Hydration is a key component to keeping your internal pipes flowing properly and regularly. Dehydration often results in constipation, in addition to gastritis, acid reflux, and in some cases, ulcers. Drinking water helps produce digestive acid that, in turn, helps your body break down food. When your body doesn’t get enough water, it’s unable to absorb the proper amount of nutrients from your food.
- Brain Function – Our brains are made up of 80 percent water. When we become dehydrated, even the tiniest bit, our brain has difficulty functioning, often leaving us confused and forgetful. Furthermore, prolonged dehydration in older adults causes brain cells to actually shrink. This has been linked to a symptom of the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
How To Stay Hydrated
It may seem like an easy fix – drink more water – but staying hydrated isn’t always the easiest, especially if you are constantly on the go. Here are some simple steps to help keep you properly hydrated.
Carry water with you, always. If you always have water on you, it makes it easy to take a sip here and there. Carry a refillable water bottle with you wherever you go. If you spend most of your time at home, have a water pitcher nearby that you use and can keep track of your fluid intake.
Eat foods with a high water content. If you find it difficult to drink fluids on a regular basis, try adding some foods to your diet that are high in water. Fruits and vegetables, such as cucumbers, watermelon, lettuce, and celery, are great for snacking on that will also help increase your water intake. Soups and broths are also another great way to increase your fluid intake.
Limit Your Alcohol Intake. Alcohol is the number one way to strip your body of hydration. It’s a diuretic, which causes you to urinate more frequently, eliminating valuable fluids. Alcohol also depletes your body of the necessary electrolytes and minerals it so desperately needs to function.
Hydrate for Better Health
Hydration in older adults is important for a number of reasons, including optimum health. Our entire body, even our brains, needs water to function. We might find it annoying having to run to the bathroom several times a day, but that is a small price we must pay for Better Health. So, pour yourself a glass of water and drink up!