Hydration For Seniors
How Much Water To Drink Daily?
Nobody likes to end up in the hospital. Sometimes, it’s an emergency, and we can’t help it. Sometimes we’ve been battling a condition for years, but one preventable cause of injury is hydration.
Dehydration is one of the ten most frequent diagnoses reported for hospitalization for persons over 65—and that’s in the United States alone. Think of all the reasons you, your friends, or a loved one may have ended up in the emergency room. Don’t let it be for dehydration, something that is both simple and easy to prevent. It’s your body, and the amount of water, fluids, and hydrating foods you put into it is an important responsibility, especially as one ages.
Why Do Older Adults Become Dehydrated Quickly?
There are several reasons why dehydration is a common affliction among the older set. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.
Decline in Total Body Fluid
As you get older, the amount of fluid our bodies hold begins to decrease. As an older adult, you are more responsible for replenishing your body’s water reserves much more than when you were younger. Sure, it’s unfair, but safer for you to know! It’s on you and your brain to nurture your body when it comes to fluids.
Lowered Thirst Response
It seems intuitive to rely on your body’s natural signals when it comes to our needs. After all, it’s what you have been doing for your whole life. Though not an easy adjustment, your approach to hydrating yourself will need to become more regular and scheduled as you get older. Most of the time, reaching for that glass of water, you won’t feel like you need it, and the familiar, soothing sensation of having your thirst quenched may not come as often. But drink anyway! The risks of not keeping a hydration schedule are not worth it.
Decreased Kidney Function
As you grow older, your kidneys may not work as efficiently as they used to. Unfortunately, this usually means that you are losing more water through urination. You can’t count on retaining the water you need and also expel whatever excess compounds your kidneys are filtering out: the solution? Drink enough water, even if you aren’t in the mood to drink. Sugar-free sweeteners are one of my favorite ways of turning a boring glass of water into a treat.
Underlying Conditions and Medications
Many older adults need to take medications for complications their bodies face during the aging process. Some of these medications and conditions can cause side effects that will quicken dehydration in anyone, young or old. Some of these symptoms which highly decrease the body’s abilities to retain fluids are:
- Blood Loss
- Increased Urination
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
While not related to the body’s ability to retain fluid, older adults who struggle with memory loss often forget to drink or struggle with the physical act of drinking. This is why, as a caregiver, it is essential to keep track of when a loved one or patient takes in fluids, how much they imbibe, and the specific types of liquids.
A chart, or other written systems, can be helpful so that even on the busiest of days, a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia does not begin to suffer from dehydration. The consequences of dehydration for an older adult are much harder to remedy than in younger folk, and indeed, it is easier to simply make sure that an older person’s fluid intake is appropriate, healthy, and nurturing.
Mobility and Incontinence
While an older person may still have good thirst recognition, it is unfortunate that mobility and dissatisfaction with bladder functionality will often prevent an older adult from seeking out water and fluids. Sometimes, this may even cause them to avoid drinking fluids altogether. Trying to reach a drink or the thought of dealing with urination can make drinking seem like more of an inconvenience than a necessity. The fact is that less fluid intake worsens incontinence. Explaining this may be a long conversation with your loved one, but as far as mobility is concerned, a caregiver, or older person themself, should keep hydrating foods easily accessible.
Signs of Dehydration in the Elderly
According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the most common signs to look out for in an older adult who may be dehydrated:
- Dry Mouth
- Muscle Cramps
- Dark Colored Urine
- Extreme Thirst
- Less Frequent Urination
If these sound like common occurrences for either you or a loved one, you might want to look into increasing your water intake. One of the most significant risks involved in dehydration among the elderly is that many of the symptoms go unnoticed because they are hard to glean or, more often, other complications and factors in an older person’s life similar symptoms.
For this reason, I aim to emphasize the importance of responsible hydration. Keep track of your fluid intake (for yourself or a loved one) and frequently replenish, even when you sometimes don’t want to.
How To Prevent Dehydration
Now you know why, and a little bit about how an older person is more at risk of becoming dehydrated. Here comes the important part—how do you prevent dehydration from happening in the first place?
Depending on the leading issue causing insufficient water intake, some tools may be more helpful than others. Overall, responsible hydration is the key to keeping elderly persons healthy.
Keep track, and most importantly, remember the things that bring the most joy! Humans love to eat and drink. There are many delicious juices, healthy fruits, veggies, and even ways to bring coffee into the equation, making this process fun for you or anyone in need of keeping hydrated.
Hydration doesn’t have to come exclusively from water. Naturally, you still want to make sure that you get two or three daily glasses of actual water; however, there are some other unexpectedly wholesome sources of hydration.
- Skim milk
- Strawberries, cantaloupe, and watermelon (most fruits, in general, have super high water content)
- Broths and soups
- Lettuce, celery, and tomatoes (just like fruits, most veggies have remarkable water content)
- Flavor additives for water
Keeping Track of Your Hydration
Everyone, old or young, needs a different amount of water daily, as there is no standard amount. As an older person, one should make sure they are drinking consistently throughout the day. The Dutch Nutrition Centre says that elderly persons should drink about seven cups of water per day.
Here’s an example of a daily hydration schedule:
- One glass of water when you wake up.
- Some kind of fluid with breakfast— O.J, apple juice, even coffee can help hydrate you.
- A drink or water-rich food between breakfast and lunch.
- A drink with lunch.
- A drink or hydrating snack in the afternoon— afternoon tea, anyone?
- A drink with dinner
- A full glass of water before bed (doesn’t need to be at the bedside table if night urination interrupts your sleep)
If you’ve been counting, we’re at roughly seven glasses. Here’s where the schedule comes in. You can make a chart and record precisely what you are having and how you feel at the end of each day. You can do something as simple as put tally marks on a whiteboard for every liquid you have and leave it at that. Or put notifications on your phone to give you a buzz when you need to drink.
The fact is that it’s not an exact science. The point of keeping track of your hydration isn’t to force yourself to drink a rigid eight glasses of water a day; instead, it’s to make sure that you’re getting enough. It’s a ballpark estimate. It’s about being self-conscious, health-conscious, and self-caring!
Hydration Advice for Caregivers
Prompt Them To Drink
Keep a schedule of your loved one’s fluid intake, and do not be afraid to prompt them when the time comes. Chances are, depending on their condition, they may not alert you when they are thirsty, even if you’re right there.
Color and Flavor
Older persons without natural thirst recognition, especially those who have dementia or Alzheimer’s, are more attracted to bright, colorful, flavorful things. Offer things that are fun and tasty. Would you want to drink water if someone was forcing you to? You aren’t even thirsty, and on top of that, it’s difficult to swallow? Probably not. You can also refer to the list of hydrating foods and help them find a favorite, hydrating snack.
Keep Fluids Accessible
An older person with mobility issues may find it a hassle to reach fluids, even when they are very thirsty. Even I struggle to get things out of the cupboard. Keep a glass or a bottle of something they enjoy next to their favorite chair, within arms reach, or at the very least make cups or glassware an easy grab if they are capable of and interested in fetching their liquids from the fridge.
If an older adult isn’t capable of (or too interested in) keeping track of their hydration, it’s in your hands. The same simple methods can be applied as for keeping track of your intake. Tally marks and elaborate charts are helpful.
Our bodies are made mostly of water, but that doesn’t mean we have an endless supply. Like a sponge, we dry out if the water doesn’t come from somewhere else. Our bodies, like oil to a machine, function correctly when H2O maintains them. As an older person, don’t risk neglecting maintenance on yourself or your loved one. Staying hydrated can taste good, and, most importantly, it makes you feel your best every day.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hydration
- Can I drink too much water?
There is a possibility of drinking too much water. Still, the Mayo Clinic says that it’s an uncommon condition in which your kidneys can’t get rid of excess water, and eventually dilute your blood. But have no fear. You would have to drink a lot of water for this to happen— far more than a few too many glasses.
- Is it okay to hydrate with coffee?
The myth that coffee dehydrates you has been debunked. While still a diuretic (makes you urinate more), coffee doesn’t actively dehydrate you or offset hydration. As long as coffee isn’t your primary source of fluids, you’re good to go with a cup of Joe.
- Do I have to drink plain water at all?
While it’s possible to get hydrated from various juices, liquids, and snacks, the shortest, most foolproof way to get hydration is through plain old boring water. Try to get yourself to drink at least a few glasses of purified water per day, to be sure you’re getting hydrated.
- Why does my doctor say I should drink a different amount of water than seven to eight glasses?
Always listen to your doctor! Everyone’s water intake needs are different—and that’s besides the fact that medical conditions and medications affect how your body hydrates. If your doctor says five glasses, drink five. If she says eleven, drink eleven!