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How to Prevent Dehydration in the Elderly

  • Our bodies are between 50% and 75% water, which is needed to carry nutrients to our organs and waste products away from them, to help regulate body temperature, lubricate our joints, keep our brains sharp and much more.

  • As we get older our body water content decreases and the risk for dehydration increases, which can lead to serious consequences.

  • Dehydration can cause impaired cognition or acute confusion, falling and higher risk of infections particularly urinary.

  • As a consequence of ageing, the kidneys have a reduced ability to concentrate urine and retain water during water deprivation.

  • Insufficient fluid intakes can also be the result of other issues in the elderly such as reduced swallowing capacity, decreased mobility, or comprehension and communication disorders.

  • Recent studies also suggest that not drinking enough plain water can increase the risk of insulin resistance (when the body produces but doesn’t use insulin properly), fatty liver and Type 2 diabetes.

  • Incontinence can increase water loss. There may be a reluctance to drink for fear of incontinence. There may be concern about having to walk to the toilet but remember keeping active as we get older is very important to keep the bones and muscles strong.

  • An elderly person may experience diminished thirst sensation, which leads to a reduced fluid consumption. They may also be less aware that they are becoming dehydrated and need to keep drinking fluids.

What are the signs of dehydration:

1. Constipation. 2. Dark urine (healthy urine is pale and straw coloured). 3. Dry, parched lips with sticky saliva. 4. Headaches. 5. Thirst. 6. Dizziness. 7. Tired, aching muscles. 8. Fatigue/sleepiness.

Benefits of drinking water: 1. Water is vital to digestion and metabolism. 2. Water flushes out toxins and impurities. 3. Water helps to transport disease-fighting cells through the bloodstream. 4. Water in its pure form replenishes natural fluids depleted by caffeine, alcohol and other diuretics. 5. Water is a key part of the body's cooling system.

What steps can be taken to prevent dehydration in the elderly?

Prevention is better than cure - so the aim is to ensure an adequate fluid intake of 1.5 litres to 2 litres a day to aid good hydration.

  1. Offer fluids regularly during the day preferably water as it is purer – choose tap, filtered or bottled.

  2. Make sure water is fresh and looks palatable.

  3. To make plain water more interesting add a few slices of lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, or herbs like basil or rosemary with ice cubes.

  4. Encourage consumption of fluids with medication.

  5. Provide preferred beverages.

  6. If your elderly loved one lives alone, why not arrange for a daily support worker to visit through ‘Independent Living Advisers’ to look after some of their needs including hydration.

Water doesn’t all have to come from drinks. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of water. Foods with a high-water content include watermelon (96% water per 100g), courgettes (92%), lettuce (95%), cucumber (95%), celery (96%), strawberries (90%). Include some of these foods in the diet of an elderly person, as well as your own, to help stay hydrated and maintain good health and wellbeing.

Some Good Hydrating Foods:

  • Cucumber

  • Watermelon

  • Pineapple

  • Tomato

  • Grapes

  • Melon

  • Grapefruit

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