Dehydration in older adults: symptoms, causes and prevention

Dehydration in older adults and children is more serious than in other people. This is a condition in which more fluids are lost than is swallowed. If this happens, the organs cannot function properly and life is put at risk.

The body needs water to carry out many of its processes. Correct temperature regulation, joint lubrication and waste elimination, among other aspects, depend on this, for example.

In addition to the inability to carry out these functions properly, dehydration in older adults can bring other complications. These include urinary tract problems, confusion, weakness, and imbalance.

Why is there a higher risk of dehydration in old age?

There are some factors associated with age that lead to a greater risk of dehydration in older adults than in the rest. As we age, a series of physiological changes take place that favor the loss of water balance.

The main reasons for an increased risk of dehydration in older adults are the following:

  • Body water: as we age there is less total water content in the body. It is estimated that at age 80 there are between 4 and 6 internal liters less than at 20.
  • Less feeling of thirst: Older people tend to feel less thirsty than younger people. This leads to not drinking enough fluids.
  • Impaired renal function: with age the kidneys' ability to conserve water decreases. Likewise, these organs respond less and less to antidiuretic hormone.
  • Diseases: some pathologies cause more fluids to be lost.
  • Age limitations: sometimes the older adult does not have easy access to fluids or is not aware of its importance.
  • Medicines: older people often take medications and some of them may have diuretic effects.

Main causes

Dehydration in older adults is largely caused by lack of information and inappropriate habits. An elderly person should be continually hydrating, even if they do not feel thirsty.

Sometimes this is not possible due to memory limitations. Sometimes mobility problems limit fluid intake. Likewise, chronic diseases like diabetes increase the risk.

In addition to the above, dehydration in older adults can be caused by one or more of the following factors:

  • Exposure to high temperatures: under these conditions, more fluids are lost through sweat.
  • Acute illness: Problems like diarrhea or the flu make it easy to lose fluids.
  • Medicines: some drugs increase urination.

Older adults often take a lot of medications. Among them, some are diuretics and promote exaggerated urination.

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Symptoms associated with dehydration in older adults

Dehydration in older adults can be mild, moderate, or severe. In the first case, the usual thing is that you are only thirsty and your mouth feels dry or sticky.

Moderate also includes these symptoms:

  • Headache.
  • Cold and dry skin
  • Little urine or dark yellow urine.
  • Muscle cramps.

If dehydration becomes severe, the following manifestations are common:

  • Very dark urine or total absence of urination.
  • Wrinkled and dry skin.
  • Confusion or irritability.
  • Fast heartbeat with rapid breathing.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Arterial hypotension

When there are signs of severe dehydration in older adults it is necessary to go to a medical center as soon as possible. It is considered an emergency and must be attended to as soon as possible.

Treatment and prevention

Dehydration in older adults is treated by replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes. If it corresponds to a mild or moderate case, it is enough to drink water successively in small amounts. When advised by your doctor, you should also take rehydration salts.

It is best to drink water or oral serum. Coffee and caffeinated drinks, sodas, and alcoholic beverages should be avoided. If these measures don't work or there are signs of severe dehydration, the medical center will most likely choose to give fluids intravenously.

On the other hand, the best way to prevent dehydration in older adults is by adopting the following measures:

  • Educate and educate older people about the importance of drinking fluids regularly.
  • Leave liquids within reach of the elderly person so that you can access them whenever you need it.
  • Promote fluid intake with medication.
  • Avoid strenuous activities or make sure you get enough fluids before, during, and after doing them.
  • Drink more water in very hot weather, wet or when there is dry cold.
  • Avoid drinking diuretic drinks such as coffee.
  • Consume foods with high water content.

Foods high in water content help hydration, although the liquid should always be drunk as such.

Possible Complications of Dehydration in Older Adults

Dehydration in older adults is a serious condition that must be approached with the utmost care. If it is not corrected in time, it could lead to serious complications:

  • Kidney and urinary problems: infections, kidney stones and even failure.
  • Seizures: if the electrolytes are out of balance they interfere with the electrical signals from one cell to the other. This can lead to involuntary muscle contractions and, in the most severe cases, loss of consciousness.
  • Hypovolemic shock: It occurs when low blood volume causes blood pressure to drop. It can lead to death.
  • Heat injury: it occurs when there is a lot of sweating. It causes anything from muscle cramps to exhaustion or a life-threatening heat stroke.

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Care in patients with previous illnesses

Continuous hydration is a necessary and healthy practice. It is a habit that must be adopted and maintained to avoid consequences that become very serious. This is especially true for children and the elderly.

Dehydration in older adults is an ongoing risk that must be prevented. Special care must be taken with those patients who have mental disorders or movement limitations, as they depend on others to stay hydrated.