In the winter months we are familiar with hearing how the cold weather affects our elderly. We are therefore more on the lookout for potential problems. However, we don’t always realise that the warmer months bring unique challenges too. The elderly are often particularly vulnerable to dehydration. At this time of year we need to be more aware of this.
Dehydration in simple terms is when the body’s need for, and use of, water exceeds the intake. The ‘net loss’ of fluid results in the body having too little water to work properly.
Changes in the body due to ageing, different diseases, medical side effects, and cognitive and physical limitations can all contribute to an elderly individual being at risk of dehydration.
Dehydration in elderly dementia patients, for example, is a certain concern which we need to look out for.
Furthermore, predominantly with dehydration in elderly dementia patients, we see diseases such as Alzheimer’s affecting their ability to swallow properly, or a reduced ability to feel thirsty. They may also have concerns about incontinence. Together these can exacerbate the problem.
Dehydration is not an innocuous problem. It is associated with poor health outcomes; it increased chance of hospitalisation, further illnesses and health complications, and even fatality.
If caught early, it can quickly be overcome by upping fluids; but if left unchecked, it causes greater complications.
Even at a lesser level, dehydration can impact on mental performance and wellbeing. In some cases, dehydration can even mimic symptoms of dementia itself.
Dehydration can lower blood pressure and therefore increase weakness and dizziness, and with this the risk of falls increases.
We all need to be aware that dehydration is a real risk for many elderly individuals and the consequences of dehydration are more dangerous than for much of the population. Therefore, it is important to be able to spot the common symptoms of dehydration in elderly people.
Unfortunately, it is not always a straightforward thing to spot. Sometimes the symptoms of dehydration can be mistaken for something else, missed, or dismissed as a normal part of ageing or worsening dementia.
Familiarity with the warning signs can help. The most obvious symptoms include:
It is also not unusual for elderly individuals who are dehydrated to develop pressure sores as well as worsening skin conditions or new skin problems. Urinary tract infections can also be more frequent.
It is therefore vital that steps are taken to prevent dehydration in elderly loved ones and residents in care homes.
The most basic step is to recognise when an individual isn’t drinking enough and encourage them to drink. Of course, this is simplistic and sometimes tricky to do. We suggest some other methods if this first line of prevention fails:
If you are concerned that your elderly relative is significantly dehydrated, or you are having problems ensuring they drink enough, you should speak to their GP, care home staff, or healthcare provider.