Dehydration occurs when more water is lost in the body than is replaced causing bodily systems such as regulation of body temperature, maintenance of blood pressure, and elimination of bodily waste to break down. The effects of dehydration can occur quickly in the elderly and the signs that there is a problem can be very subtle. Confusion, weakness, dizziness, headaches, constipation, decrease in urine output, dark urine color, urinary tract infections, and break down of the skin are some signs of dehydration. If a person has dementia, it can be difficult to spot the confusion as a symptom of dehydration. If you suspect dehydration check for a decrease in skin turgor by pulling up the skin on the back of the hand for a few seconds; if it does not return to normal almost immediately, the person is dehydrated.
Causes of senior dehydration include:
• Decreased Water Intake: The elderly often cut down on drinking water or other fluids because they are fearful of incontinence and having to stand and walk to get to the bathroom.
• Decreased Thirst: As we age, our sense of thirst becomes less and dehydration may be already occurring before a person feels thirsty.
• Medications: Many elderly are on diuretics for heart conditions. Diuretics drain fluid from the body and can be factor in dehydration when elders are not taking in enough water.
• Kidney Function: As we age our kidney function begins to decrease and are less able to conserve fluid.
Preventing dehydration is important as a basis of good health in the elderly. Encourage the drinking of fluids and make sure they are readily available. Eating fruits and vegetables which are mostly water-based will affect hydration levels as well. Tracking body weight every morning will give an indication of the level of hydration in the body. If the elder loses two pounds or more from the day before, and are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, they are probably dehydrated. As always, prevention is much easier than treatment for dehydration.