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The Dangers of Dehydration for Seniors

In Oklahoma, even late summer and early fall can come with extreme temperatures. When it's still so hot outside, dehydration can be a risk, but staying hydrated is so important for overall health. Your body needs water to regulate its temperature, maintain blood pressure and eliminate waste. Without water, our bodies can become dangerously sick.

Dehydration is harmful for all age groups, but it’s especially common and very serious when it happens to seniors. If you’re a senior or provide care for one, it’s important to monitor dehydration symptoms and know how to avoid it.

Why seniors are at higher risk for dehydration

"Dehydration in seniors is a very common problem," says INTEGRIS Health physician Dr. Ashley Muckala. "There are many causes for dehydration, including medication, fluid restriction prescribed by a health care professional or it can be a side effect of other illnesses."

As people age, their sense of thirst can sometimes decrease or seemingly go away. This doesn’t mean they don’t need water; it means they don’t feel thirsty as often, which causes them to drink less water than they need and can lead to dehydration.

Kidney problems also cause dehydration. As bodies age, the kidneys can stop processing fluids efficiently, which can lead to more trips to the bathroom and fluid loss.

Medications can be another cause of dehydration. Many seniors take regular medication for medical conditions and can be unaware of dehydration as a side effect. Dr. Muckala recommends speaking with your doctor if you suspect your medications are causing dehydration.

3 Causes of Dehydration in Seniors

Dehydration symptoms

Signs of dehydration aren’t always obvious and can range from mild to severe. Symptoms can include the following:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Dry mouth
  • Fainting
  • Loose skin or skin that doesn’t return to normal after pinching
  • Urinating less than usual
  • Constipation
  • Muscle cramping
  • Fast heart rate
  • Drop in blood pressure

What to do if you’re dehydrated

Be ready to act if you notice signs of dehydration. Some symptoms are mild, like nausea and headaches, but dizziness, confusion and cramping can indicate a more serious problem.

"If caregivers of a patient suspect dehydration, they need to seek medical attention," Dr. Muckala says. She says it's typically OK to handle the issue in a regular primary care visit with a doctor, as long as the patient can be seen in a timely manner. However, Dr. Muckala recommends quicker action if dehydration is severe.

She says, "Urgent professional care is necessary when the patient is not able to consume or keep down liquids. If intractable vomiting or diarrhea is present, this may be a situation where quick medical intervention is necessary." In this scenario, the patient should immediately seek treatment at an emergency room or an urgent care facility. 

Stay hydrated all year round

Hot weather season is not the only time when dehydration is a risk. Many seniors are at risk for dehydration throughout the year. Even in winter, it’s important to drink a healthy amount of water throughout the day. Not everyone needs to drink eight glasses of water of water a day, but everyone does need to drink an appropriate amount of water for their body weight and level of activity. Consult with a doctor to determine the correct amount.Drink More Water

Dr. Muckala recommends drinking water and snacking throughout the day. She also advises against spending extended periods of time in the heat. It's important to remind yourself or seniors in your care to drink water even without thirst. If mobility is an issue, try keeping a full glass of water near a favorite chair, bed or where you spend the most time each day. 

Dr. Ashley Muckala is an INTEGRIS Health physician board certified in both internal medicine and hospice/palliative medicine. She graduated from Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, completed her residency at Kettering Medical Center in Ohio and completed her hospice/palliative care fellowship from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. She treats patients over the age of 16.

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