Dehydration: A Hidden Risk for Seniors

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Editor's note: Updated and reviewed June 25, 2021

Although most people are unaware how frequently it happens, dehydration is a common condition affecting people over the age of 65. As people age, it is a natural change to feel less thirsty and, as a result, take in fewer fluids. That’s why seniors need to pay particular attention to drinking enough fluids throughout the day.

Dehydration happens when a person loses more water than he or she takes in. Lacking fluids deprives the body of vital nourishment and its ability to cleanse itself. It’s especially common for seniors using medications to control heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease and liver disease. These medications often have a diuretic effect. As a result, seniors need additional fluids in their daily routine in order to compensate for both their bodies’ natural changes and for the diuretic effects of their prescriptions.

“At the very minimum, seniors should consume six to eight glasses each day,” explains Worawan Rattanasamphan, MD, from Overlake’s Senior Health Clinic. “But the average senior citizen still requires more than 10 cups of pure water or other oral fluid each and every day to maintain good health.”

If dehydration is left untreated, it can pose a serious threat to a person’s health. One of the first signs the elderly are not drinking enough water can be seen in the color of their urine. Some medications can cause discoloration, but urine should generally be clear. Other early signs of dehydration among seniors are a dry mouth and clouded thinking.

Drinking sufficient amounts of water daily is a simple way to avoid dehydration and to regulate the body’s normal temperature.

Symptoms for mild to moderate dehydration include:

  • Dry, sticky mouth.
  • Sleepiness or tiredness.
  • Thirst.
  • Decreased urine output.
  • Few or no tears.
  • Dry skin.
  • Headache.
  • Constipation.
  • Dizziness or light-headedness.

If your loved one has trouble walking or getting to the kitchen, consider keeping a water bottle next to his or her bed. A great portion of our daily fluid intake also comes from food. Fruits, vegetables and soups contain water and are good sources of hydration.

You can usually treat mild to moderate dehydration by drinking more fluids. But if you or your loved one develops severe signs and symptoms such as extreme thirst, a lack of urination, shriveled skin, dizziness or confusion, please get immediate medical care.

Knowing symptoms of dehydration helps prevent the development of serious medical complications. Keeping hydrated can be simple and, especially during hot summer days, can prevent elderly dehydration.

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