The Importance of Hydration in Seniors

Published: May 20, 2014

As the summer months heat up, it’s imperative to maintain adequate hydration.  Hydration is a term that describes the fluid and electrolyte concentration in the human body.  The level of hydration is dependent on water intake from foods, liquid, metabolism, and water loss from sweating and organ function.  Water is essential for excretion of metabolic waste, digestion, and the absorption, transport, and metabolism of nutrients.  Water also maintains joint and skin health and facilitates optimal organ and tissue function. 

Water accounts for 70% of body weight in humans but this decreases to 60% in the elderly.  This is due to a decrease in fat-free mass versus in youth.  Also, the thirst sensation, the main stimulus for water intake, is blunted in the elderly.  The kidneys allow more water volume to be excreted with increasing age.  Further, seniors may take diuretics or “water pills”, which exacerbates fluid loss and increases dehydration risk.

When water loss is greater than water intake, dehydration can occur.  The effect of dehydration varies greatly based upon the degree of dehydration.  Mild dehydration, characterized by a loss of 2-5% in body weight, results in weight loss, thirst, and mouth dryness.  Moderate dehydration can cause dangerously high body temperature, deduced cardiac output, and kidney failure.  If severe dehydration occurs where 15% of body weight is lost, death can be caused by brain damage, abnormal heart rhythms, or kidney failure. Dehydration can also cause decreased mental function, blood clots, infectious disease, and kidney stones.  However, over hydration can also be dangerous and cause seniors water intoxication due to the kidneys not being able to dilute urine.

It is suggested that seniors drink at least 8 cups of fluid a day.  They need even more fluids if they are having diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding, edema, infection, fever, when using water pills, or when it is very warm.  A good clue to being adequately hydrated is urine color; clear or slightly yellow urine is healthy.  Dark yellow or orange urine can suggest dehydration. 

If someone has trouble swallowing liquids due to disease, injury, or weakness, Speech therapy can help with exercises, educations, and adaptations.  It is not normal to cough, have a runny nose, have food or liquid leak from the mouth or have watery eyes when eating and drinking.  Individuals that have trouble swallowing are at increased risk of dehydration.

Also, there are people that have trouble drinking due to poor strength and coordination that affects the ability to bring cups of water to their mouth.  Occupational therapy can help people become stronger and may suggest adaptive equipment or methods to allow them to drink and eat.

Be sure to drink frequently throughout the day, especially in these hot summer months.  And, if you need help to gain safety and independence to drink, feed yourself, or to swallow, our speech and occupational therapists can help.  The therapy staff on the campus of Passavant Retirement Community are available on an outpatient basis (call 724-452-3492) or via home health services (call 877-862-6659). 


Information in part from:

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