Reducing the Risk of Dehydration in Seniors


July is dehydration awareness month.  For residents of Arizona temperatures start heating up as early as May and June, making it necessary to hydrate earlier and more often.  Living in the desert presents an increased threat of dehydration, which can quickly lead to serious health issues, especially for seniors.

Causes of dehydration

Most people know that a lack of fluid intake is a root cause of dehydration, but what many don’t realize is that the risk of dehydration can result from a variety of factors. One prominent cause can be a side effect from medications.  When a doctor prescribes medication, it is important to check the potential side effects and know if it must be taken with food and/or water to help ensure effectiveness and  reduce the possibilities of any issues. Some medications will cause excessive sweating, hot flashes, loss of appetite, nausea or diarrhea.  These side effects can and often will cause dehydration if you are not careful.  Medications that act as diuretics also put seniors at greater risk dehydration. Other causes of dehydration include:


  • Swallowing disorders (often accompanied by Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s disease)
  • Ailments that cause seniors to be bedridden
  • Blood pressure medications and antihistamines
  • Obesity
  • Individuals with diabetes who urinate frequently
  • Illnesses that cause vomiting or diarrhea (such as those enduring chemotherapy)
  • Seniors with five or more chronic illnesses
  • Seniors living in higher altitudes
  • Individuals with cystic fibrosis
  • Seniors on more than five prescription medications
  • Individuals living in high temperature climates

Signs of dehydration

While awareness is the first step in preventing dehydration. It is valuable to know and recognize the signs you or a loved one may need to hydrate. To help, we have put together a list of the common signs of dehydration:

  • Headaches
  • Cramping in the limbs
  • The inability to produce tears while crying
  • Dry mouth
  • Thick saliva
  • Dark yellow or brown urine
  • Issues producing urine
  • Cloudy or foggy brain
  • Joint pain
  • Unusual cravings for food
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Irritability

One of the scariest things about dehydration for seniors, is that they are often unable to tell that they are dehydrated until they become extremely ill. For caregivers and loved ones, it is important to look out for the signs and symptoms of dehydration before a case of advanced dehydration sets in. Here are symptoms and complications that can occur from advanced dehydration:

  • Convulsions
  • Confusion
  • Bloating
  • Severe muscle contractions
  • Low blood pressure
  • Wrinkled skin
  • Dry and sunken in eyes
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid and weak pulse

If any of these symptoms appear, it is vital to drink water immediately to rehydrate. However, drinking slowly is also incredibly important in these circumstances, due to the potential for brain swelling caused by excessive drinking in a short duration of time.

Health complications from dehydration

When the body lacks the necessary amount of fluid to function properly, it will begin shutting down. This can lead to kidney failure, loss of consciousness, seizures, coma or death. These outcomes are even more of a threat to seniors who are already at risk for complications due to their age and health status.

As we get older, we become less capable of regulating our fluid balance, which can cause seniors to be unaware that they are drinking less, since they do not feel as thirsty as frequently.  The aging process also prompts a decline in muscle mass, which causes a decrease in water retention. Additionally, organs can become less efficient at filtering fluids and waste, which can also increase the risk of extreme dehydration.

How to manage a healthy fluid balance

The good news is dehydration is highly preventable. Maintaining a healthy fluid intake is as simple as setting a routine, beginning with the following steps:

  1. Drink at least five glasses of water per day.
  2. Avoid or limit alcoholic beverages.
  3. Limit caffeine intake, as it is a diuretic.
  4. Use sports drinks or electrolyte-filled drinks such as Pedialyte or coconut water whenever dehydration strikes.
  5. Maintain proper nutrition and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, as they are filled with water.
  6. Drink small amounts constantly throughout the day.
  7. Avoid high-protein drinks.
  8. Consider adding natural juice or milk to the liquid routine to encourage fluid intake- it can be more than just water.
  9. Infuse water with herbal tea, fruits or vegetables: citrus, celery, cucumber, etc.

Reducing the risk of dehydration starts with awareness and adopting some simple daily habits. Knowing the symptoms and taking the steps to maintain fluids is vital for keeping seniors safe and preventing unseen health issues.

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