The Importance of Hydration - Are you getting enough?

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Donna Mae Scheib

The Importance of Hydration - Are you getting enough?

Posted by Donna Mae Scheib on January 23, 2019

The Importance of Hydration – Are you getting enough?

Getting enough fluids is important for everyone. Your body depends on water to function adequately. In fact, 60% of your body weight is made up of fluids that provide a moist environment for ear, nose, and throat tissues (preventing viruses from entering); carry nutrients to your cells, and flush toxins. However, older adults are more at risk for dehydration.

As we age, our sense of thirst decreases and our body’s natural ability to conserve water is reduced. In addition, there are several medications and medical conditions that impact the retention of fluids. For example, those with dementia might forget to drink or eat and even have more difficulty in swallowing and seniors who are incontinent might forego needed fluids to avoid accidents. Drugs like corticosteroids and antipsychotics, laxatives, antihistamines, and diuretics result in increased urination that rids the body of electrolytes and water. 

What are the symptoms of dehydration?

Look for lethargy, sleepiness, dry mouth or tongue, muscle cramps, constipation, and headache. Other symptoms include weak pulse, cold hands and feet, rapid breathing and heartbeat, low blood pressure, irritability/dizziness/confusion, and dry skin that stays folded when pinched. Another sign of dehydration is the frequency of urination and the urine color; urination needs to be on a regular basis and the urine should be clear or light yellow.

What happens if dehydration goes undetected?

Without the necessary fluid intake, the electrolyte imbalance may cause seizures. Hypovolemic shock (e.g., a reduction in the volume of blood in the body), kidney malfunction, and even coma or death may result.

How can you help prevent dehydration?

Usually, eating foods with high water content and drinking a variety of fluids throughout the day is enough to keep our bodies hydrated. 64 ounces (8 cups) of daily fluids is average for most adults. However, in hot and humid conditions, and with certain medications and health conditions, this amount needs to be increased. In addition, your weight, the amount of exercise, the climate, and the amount of liquid you are losing or excreting all impact your fluid intake. For example, smaller people tend to need fewer liquids than those individuals who are bigger. And if you exercise, you will need more water as well as if you are out in the humidity or the heat. If you have the stomach flu or diarrhea, you will need to replace the fluids that have been lost from your body.

How can you increase fluid intake?

First off, water is not the only fluid that counts for hydration. Most fluids count except for alcoholic beverages. Foods do, too. Remember that a variety of types of liquids and water-based foods will help increase motivation to drink and eat, and therefore, it will increase the chance of staying hydrated.

Using pre-flavored water, fruit-infused water, or natural juices are ways to encourage more liquid consumption. Broths (chicken, beef, and vegetable) are a great source of fluids. Popsicles, smoothies, and milkshakes attract the sweet-lover.

It is important to serve the beverages at a temperature that appeals to the senior. Try experimenting with different temperatures until you find what works. Another factor to consider is the drinkware. Using more appetizing-looking glasses or a garnish might be more appealing. Or specialized drinkware might be needed to offset the difficulty in swallowing, arthritis, muscular weakness, or motor skills problems. Try a colorful straw or built-in straw, a no-spill lid, or a cup with two handles to prevent spills and ease the process.

Raw vegetables and fruits are a good source of fluids. Foods especially high in water content (85%+) include cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons, bell peppers, grapes, cantaloupes, oranges, blueberries, and apples. If it is difficult for the senior to eat the vegetables or fruits raw, you can cut them up into smaller pieces or try adding them to other foods that they eat on a regular basis like a sandwich, soup, yogurt, cereal, or dessert.

Another suggestion is to offer a beverage or two at every meal. Then encourage them to drink a cup or two of fluids when they wake up, between each meal, and another in the evening. You might consider setting reminders or a method to track the fluid intake. For those who experience incontinence and may be reluctant to consume a large amount of liquids, it might be helpful to have them consume most of the liquids earlier in the day and skip the consumption in the evening. Then help them to use the bathroom before bed and have them wear incontinence-friendly undergarments to safeguard against accidents.

Why should you stay in communication with a doctor?

The doctor can help determine the amount of fluid intake necessary for good health. They will know the impact of medications and medical conditions on the body and if you need to increase the fluid intake. They can also address complications from fluid loss.

Conclusion

It is important to be aware of the symptoms of dehydration and the need for a healthy level of liquid intake. It is also necessary to communicate with a health professional if you notice your loved one exhibiting complications from fluid loss. While it may seem daunting to help your loved one consume the necessary liquids each day, using some of these tips will hopefully help them to stay well hydrated and remain comfortable and happy in their home or living facility.

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