Dehydration can occur at any age, with seniors being more at risk than other adults. This article summarizes the role of fluid in our bodies, and the effects of aging on fluid balance. It then provides you with tips for preventing your parent from becoming dehydrated. You’ll read about signs of dehydration in aging adults and treatment for those who need extra help to return to a healthy fluid balance.

Fluid Balance and Aging’s Effects

Between one half and two thirds of an adult’s body weight is from water. It carries electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium, to the tissues throughout your body. The kidneys and the pituitary gland are two body structures that help to balance fluid. Water is consumed through what your parents drink and the food they eat. Fluid leaves the body as sweat, as air vapor from the lungs, and when we eliminate body wastes.

The risk for dehydration in aging adults becomes greater because:

  • The amount of fluid in the body decreases with age.
  • Some medications affect fluid balance, including some over-the-counter medicines (OTCs).
  • Age-related diseases and conditions contribute to dehydration; examples are diabetes and kidney ailments.

Prevention Steps

Dehydration in aging adults occurs when the fluid intake and output become imbalanced. There are several steps to take that can prevent this from happening.

  • Water, plain old water, is everyone’s friend!
  • Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fluid.
  • Physical activity uses up body fluids so it’s wise to drink extra!
  • High and low temperatures, inside or outdoors, can make your parent lose fluids, causing dehydration. Time for more water!
  • Some medications can cause fluid loss—read the side effects and/or check with your parent’s doctor or pharmacist.
  • Drink alcohol with caution as it tends to draw fluid from the body. There are mixed opinions about caffeine so drinking water too is a wise choice!
  • Be sure to follow medication directions, including those for OTCs. An example is that overuse of laxatives may contribute to dehydration in aging adults.
  • Infections and illnesses, including those with vomiting and/or diarrhea can contribute to dehydration—prevention of these is key!

NOTE: If your parent is on fluid restrictions, please check with the doctor on steps to keep your parent’s fluid balance in a healthy range.

Detection Signs and Symptoms

One reason you plan regular visits with your loved one is to check on their overall wellbeing. It may be you or another caregiver who visits. Making observations and staying in touch about even small changes in their condition helps to prevent concerns.

Signs that your parent may be dehydrated include the symptoms listed here, going from mild to moderate, then on to severe:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dry skin
  • Increased sleepiness
  • Headache
  • Decreased urine output—concern increases as urine color deepens and there is less or no need to go
  • Lack of tears
  • Dry underarms and lack of sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Imbalance and falling
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fever
  • Seizure

Treatment Options

The first indication that your parent is mildly dehydrated means it is time to increase fluid intake. This includes beverages plus popsicles and other treats that contain a lot of water. Sports drinks help to restore electrolyte balance. If your parent is urinating less and showing new signs of confusion, call the doctor for advice. You’ll be told steps to take that may include an appointment. Following recommendations helps to prevent complications. With more severe symptoms, such as increased heart rate, dizziness, fever, no urine output, or suspected seizures, it’s time to call emergency medical services! Treatment in an emergency setting typically includes intravenous (IV) fluid replacement and doing lab tests. These guide next steps to assure that your parent’s condition is stabilized. Doing so may include a hospital admission to assure a safe recovery and return to home!

Home care services provide families with the assurance that their beloved elders are safe and comfortable. Companions and caregivers encourage hydration and healthy nutrition. They make observations about your parent’s condition to assure that any concerns are promptly addressed. First In Care offers compassionate services and are experienced in promoting elder well-being and safety. Request a free in-home consultation today!


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