Spotting And Managing Dehydration In The Elderly 

21 Jul 2022 | Advice

Dehydration affects the elderly more rapidly and more profoundly than it does younger people whether they live independently or in a care home, so it’s important to recognise and treat signs of dehydration as soon as possible.  

Here we will discuss the causes, signs and prevention of dehydration in the elderly. 

What causes dehydration in the elderly? 

In the elderly, dehydration is most often caused by inadequate water intake. It may be due to dementia causing older people to forget to drink throughout the day. Or it may be due to mobility issues meaning they can’t physically get themselves a drink very easily. It can also be directly related to a reduction in the thirst sensation that naturally happens with age, causing a reduction in the amount of fluids consumed. But thirst is not the only reason for dehydration in the elderly. 

Loss of water from the body happens for many reasons too. This includes sweating, diarrhoea, medical conditions such as diabetes, as well as medications that can cause extra fluid loss. 

With less body fluids comes lowered kidney function. Kidney function lessens with age too. When this happens, the kidneys become less proficient at removing toxins so more urine, and therefore, more fluids are required, leading to an increase in fluid loss. 

Sometimes an elderly person may consciously restrict fluids if they have any continence issues and are worried about accidents. Mobility concerns that prevent them from being able to use the bathroom regularly may also be a barrier to drinking plenty. 

What are the signs of dehydration in the elderly? 

Urine tells a lot about a person’s hydration levels. Small amounts, passing water infrequently and dark in colour suggest more fluids are needed. Here are some more common signs of both mild and more severe dehydration. 

Mild Dehydration Symptoms 

  • Dry mouth or dry tongue with thick saliva 
  • Inability to urinate 
  • Cramping in limbs 
  • Headaches and dizziness 
  • Crying but with few or no tears 
  • Weakness, general feeling of being unwell 
  • Sleepiness 
  • Irritability 
  • Poor concentration 
  • Lower reaction times 

Serious Dehydration Symptoms 

  • Low blood pressure 
  • Convulsions 
  • Severe cramping  
  • Bloated stomach 
  • Rapid but weak pulse 
  • Dry and sunken eyes with few or no tears 
  • Wrinkled skin; no elasticity 
  • Breathing faster than normal 

How to hydrate the elderly? 

Treating mild dehydration is as simple as encouraging extra fluids. The benefits will start to be felt very quickly. Electrolyte drinks can be given to restore the body’s balance of minerals that arises from dehydration. 

For more severe dehydration you will need input from a doctor. It’s likely fluids will be given intravenously to increase the amount quickly and other treatments may also be needed. 

Tips to prevent dehydration. 

  • Offer a choice of drinks – it doesn’t have to be water. A glass of milk or a cup of tea work just as well. 
  • Encourage small drinks throughout the day. Trying to drink a tall glass of water on demand can be difficult. 
  • Offer reminders throughout the day if remembering to drink is a problem. 
  • Talk to them about the importance of drinking regularly. Give them the knowledge and opportunity to make their own healthy choices. 
  • Offer high water content foods such as watermelon, cucumber, soups and smoothies. 
  • Avoid alcohol which can have a diuretic effect. 

Extra support at home 

It can be a difficult balance trying to maintain your elderly loved one’s independence while ensuring all their care needs are met. 

Our live-in care companions get the balance just right. Our discreet companions allow our clients to maintain all their independence while still being on hand to ensure issues such as dehydration or poor eating don’t become a problem. 

If you’d like to learn more about how Eximius can help please get in touch.