How Caregivers Can Help the Elderly Drink Enough Water During Summer

Caregivers can take steps to help seniors get appropriate fluid intake

Elderly woman drinking glass of water
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During the summer months, it's critical that caregivers of the elderly and the sick make sure these vulnerable individuals drink enough water. While many caretakers appreciate warm weather because they no longer have to worry about loved ones slipping on ice, suffering in the cold or struggling to pay high gas bills, summer can still be a complicated time for caregiving. Hydration stands out as one of the most important issues caretakers face during the heat.

Defining Dehydration

Dehydration, simply put, is when someone loses more water than they consume. We need enough water to regulate body temperature (i.e. through sweating), to get rid of waste and to keep our skin supple. Even mild dehydration can cause problems like an increased risk of pressure ulcers, or bed sores, and a predisposition toward urinary tract infections.

Seniors and people with some medical conditions tend to become easily dehydrated for a number of reasons:

  • Some medications have a diuretic effect. Certain high blood pressure medications, for instance, work by decreasing the overall fluid volume in the body.
  • Diseased, damaged and aging kidneys are not as efficient at retaining fluids.
  • Folks with mobility difficulties may drink less; the effort of getting the water and the effort to get up and use the bathroom afterwards may feel overwhelming.
  • Anyone suffering from nausea and diarrhea (common after chemotherapy treatments) is vulnerable to dehydration under normal temperature conditions. When the mercury rises, their risk of dehydration increases.  

    The Importance of Drinking Enough Water 

    I spoke with Deb Malkin, a licensed massage therapist and self-proclaimed "hydration nerd," about the importance of drinking enough water

    "Our bodies are made up of 60 percent water," she said. "Water with the right mix of electrolytes is what allows the functioning of all our basic needs, like our blood moving through the body delivering vital nutrients or for our kidneys and lymph system to filter out waste products or for our muscles to receive oxygen.

    Low hydration can affect every part of our body, from brain function to pain and inflammation to waste management."

    Malkin then related the story of a friend who had long awakened each morning with a headache. The friend found that when she drank a glass of water before bed, the years-long headaches vanished. In addition to treating headaches, proper hydration can decrease nighttime leg cramps and lead to better sleep. This helps everyone function better generally and chronic pain sufferers in particular see a reduction in symptoms.

    Signs of Dehydration in Seniors

    While it's important for seniors to drink plenty of water, it's not easy to assess hydration level in the elderly. They often don't feel thirst as acutely as younger people do. Plus, seniors often already have decreased skin turgor, or saggy skin. Noting the color of a senior's urine can give one a rough idea of a senior's hydration state. Well-hydrated individuals have pale yellow urine, while the dehydrated have dark-colored urine.

    Be aware, though, that some medications change urine's color.

    A change in mental status may be the only sign of dehydration in seniors, so keep an eye on your loved one's general alertness and cognitive abilities. A substantial change might well warrant a trip to the emergency room. You can also check your loved one's weight every day at the same time during the hottest summer months. Overnight weight loss may be a sign of dehydration.

    Simple Steps Can Keep Vulnerable People Hydrated

    Caregivers can take a number of simple steps to help the seniors and the sick drink more water. They can offer them a variety of fluids between meals and at meals, keep a water bottle near them or serve them high-water content foods, such as watermelon, soups and smoothies.

    Remember to experiment with different temperatures, as some people lose their desire for ice water with age. A room temperature fluid might actually be more palatable.

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