Dehydration in older people and how to avoid it?

Dehydration in elderly is very common because, during old age, there is a decrease in body water, the deterioration in the performance of the kidneys, and the loss of the sensation of thirst, aspects that alter healthy water levels.

What is dehydration?

Between 45-65% of our total weight is water. Muscles need water, organs need water, and even the brain, 70%, is made up of water.

At the moment which the body stops receiving the necessary water supply, this decompensation prevents the development of its functions normally. When the body loses more fluids than it takes in, there is also an alteration in electrolyte levels. These are dehydration symptoms.

Mineral salts present in cells and fluids play a fundamental role in the development of important physiological functions. Hence, dehydration and the consequent loss of electrolytes can lead to serious health problems.

Causes of dehydration

To guarantee that the water balance is always positive, that is, that we replace the water lost in daily activities, the body uses monitoring and warning mechanisms such as the sensation of thirst. This is how, practically mechanically, we balance the loss/intake of fluids. What happens when the scale becomes unbalanced? If the scale becomes imbalanced, it indicates dehydration signs.

Certain circumstances can lead to negative water levels that are more difficult to compensate and require an extra supply of water. Some of the most common causes of dehydration are:

Diarrhea: A picture of diarrhea implies a considerable loss of water in each stool.

- Vomiting: It is usually associated with eating/swallowing disorders and drug treatments.

- Sweating: in situations of heat, humidity, or intense physical activity, the body regulates its temperature with sweat production.

- Fever and burns: body temperature can also increase in the presence of fever or sunburn, accelerating the loss of fluids.

How does dehydration affect older people?

To understand how dehydration affects the aged, you should first know what are the signs of dehydration in the elderly. The signs of dehydration in elderly adults can be detected since the older you are, the greater the risk of dehydration. The changes that occur in the body over the years naturally imply a reduction in body water of around 6 liters. Along with this reduction in water deposits in the body, other circumstances (dehydrating signs) occur that explain why there is a greater risk of dehydration in older people:

- Decreased feeling of thirst (with a higher risk in diseases such as Alzheimer's)

- Functional changes and cognitive problems (for example, swallowing disorders)

- Poor kidney function

- Infections in the lungs and bladder

- Undiagnosed or poorly controlled diabetes (causes an increased need to urinate)

- Pharmacological treatments with diuretic or laxative effects

- Alterations in the functioning of antidiuretic hormones such as vasopressin

What to do in case of dehydration in elderly people?

In the event that one or more symptoms of dehydration in adults are identified, it is important to contact a doctor as soon as possible. Recovery in older adults with dehydration is not as fast as in younger people and can have much more serious consequences. Once symptoms of dehydration in elderly are noticed, it's important to seek medical attention.

Only a specialist can assess the symptoms and diseases that cause dehydration and make specific measurements for an accurate diagnosis, such as the concentration of electrolytes in the blood or the patient's urine characteristics. Severe cases of dehydration may even require hospitalization, although, with proper treatment and timely diagnosis, they will most likely resolve within 2-4 days.

Tips to avoid dehydration in older people

The elderly caregiver will not only guarantee that the daily consumption of liquids is adequate but will also manage the situations that favor the uncontrolled loss of water, and that can lead to dehydration. Knowing how to cure dehydration symptoms is essential for caregivers.

The task of our home caregivers in promoting proper hydration in older people consists of applying these basic guidelines:

- Choice of suitable liquids according to each person.

- Adaptation of the daily diet to obtain liquids through food.

- Monitoring of water intake.

- Monitoring of water intake under specific conditions.

- Planning of walks and outdoor activities to avoid that they coincide with the hottest hours.

- Control of sun exposure and adequate skin protection.

The presence of a caregiver at home, their knowledge on the subject, and their experience to make the right decisions at the right time will help your family member to maintain a balanced water balance and an optimal state of health.

If you have or think you have dehydration, quickly consult a doctor and follow their instructions. This publication is not intended to substitute for a physician's diagnosis, prescription of medications, or treatments for dehydration.

Falling asleep: how to achieve it in older people