Water Is Life Blog

Dehydration and the Elderly

Mar 19, 2012

yogaUnfortunately, not everyone ages as gracefully as the woman doing yoga in this picture!  It’s tough when age takes its toll on joints, muscles, organs and memory.  This year I saw my Mother summon the courage to face that inevitable decline, a woman full of life and joy.  Made me think about the role that dehydration–not enough water– plays in the endgame of life.

My Mom, like lots of elderly ill, went in and out of the hospital in her last year. Each time she went, the first treatment they performed was always to hook her up to a saline solution.  This should not be surprising as dehydration is one of the 10 most frequent emergency room admitting diagnoses for the elderly.  Saline solution is mostly water, salts and minerals.  The percentage of salt/minerals in the IV solution is the same as what is in our blood.  That treatment alone helps many people to perk up and feel stronger. Sometimes they are released that day or later feeling much better without other interventions.  I am convinced that IV rehydration is an unsung medical hero.  It was for my Mom.  (Like any medical procedure, some  patients are not good candidates for it.  It’s not a cure-all).

Ever been around someone older, chronically ill, and declining?  How often have you seen or heard of these acute symptoms: No energy, weakness, dizziness, confusion, low blood pressure, sudden weight loss, constipation, urinary tract infections.  These are all possible symptoms of dehydration and eventually trigger our alarm bells and send people to the hospital.

So what causes this problem in senior patients more than the young and healthy?  How can you tell if you are dehydrated?  And what can be done about it?   As people age, their instinct for thirst may diminish; they may not be aware of the need for more water.  Sometimes dehydration is caused by their medications:  blood pressure meds, diuretics, anti-depressants, etc.  Peoples’ metabolic needs change as they age.  Kidneys don’t function as well.  Some folks may limit their water intake because they are afraid they will be incontinent or have to urinate too often.  And sometimes, patients are dependent on caretakers who may not be as attentive to their need for fluids.

PictureMy friend Willie was an EMT and paramedic.  He told me one of the first things to do when you suspect dehydration is to “pinch” the skin in the uppper chest/sternum area.  Watch the skin after the pinch.  If it returns to normal quickly, then the body is probably hydrated.  But if it “tents up” then suspect dehydration.

So if you are caring for an aging patient, or if you are one, remember to drink water more often.  Avoid too many dehydrating beverages like cola or coffee.  Eat foods with high fluid content, like fruits, vegetables, yogurt, soup.  And if you are relying on caregivers in the home or facility, try to agree on a hydration program.  PRE-HYDRATION PREVENTS DE-HYDRATION!          

I would love to hear your comments and personal experiences.  And I would like you to consider the role that Multipure filtered water can play in your own health.