Detecting the symptoms of illnesses in the elderly can be very challenging. This is because most signs and symptoms of diseases in seniors are often shrugged off as being part of the "normal" aging process. Dehydration manifests itself according to the stage of illness. It can start with a simple complaint of thirst and steadily progress to loss of consciousness.
Dehydration in the elderly should not be taken lightly. It is a serious medical condition that can hurt an elderly person and if left untreated can cause death. Dehydration in the elderly occurs when water intake is not proportionate to the body’s needs.
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The body is composed of 70 percent water and low levels of water could have a serious effect on the body’s normal processes. Dehydration is easily avoidable but if left untreated it can pose a serious threat to a person’s health.
Water plays a vital role in regulating the body’s normal temperature. It is responsible for decreasing the body’s temperature by bringing out heat from inside the body. Internal heat is picked up through the body’s circulatory system and released by sweating.
Drinking adequate amounts of water also minimizes the risk of infection. Urinary tract infections are especially high in people who are unable to eliminate toxins through urination. Toxin buildup causes muscle and joint pains causing great stress and discomfort among seniors.
A major portion of the blood in the body is composed of water. When there are low levels of fluids, the heart pumps at a higher rate. This is especially dangerous for the elderly who are already suffering from heart ailments. If fluids are not replaced immediately, this can worsen existing heart conditions and lead to death.
Symptoms of Dehydration in the Elderly
Detecting the early signs and symptoms of dehydration in the elderly can only be done through close monitoring and communication. Dehydration if allowed to progress could lead to serious injury or death in the elderly. One of the first signs that the elderly is not drinking adequate amounts of water can be seen in the color of their urine. Some medications can cause discoloration but urine should be generally clear. This could be a sign that chemicals and waste products are not being diluted properly or a urinary tract infection is present.
Another early sign that the elderly might be suffering from dehydration are a dry mouth and clouded thinking. A dry mouth is not part of the normal aging process. This should not be mistaken for wrinkles. A dry mouth signals that not enough fluids are present in the body. Other symptoms that directly cause dry mouth include lack of production of saliva, again a direct result of inadequate fluid intake.
Most of the danger signs of dehydration could not be directly associated with the disease. Clouded thinking for example could be mistaken as something normal for seniors. Fatigue and sluggishness are also danger signs of severe dehydration that long-term care providers and families should look out for.
Fatigue. Normal amounts of fluids are required for the body’s normal functioning. Even the slightest change in the levels of fluid in the body can adversely affect how our body works. A major component of blood is water and a decrease makes our hearts harder. Oxygen and nutrients are harder to distribute leaving seniors feeling tired and weaker.
As the body compensates for lower levels of blood circulating in the body, blood is directed to the essential organs and away from the skin and muscles. The body is unable to release internal heat which causes muscle cramps and confusion.
Headaches. This is caused by stress which is a direct result of the senior’s inability to cope with high temperatures. Without adequate amounts of fluid circulating inside the body, internal heat is difficult to release.
Cloudy Brain. Seniors suffering from dehydration can have a difficult time making even the simplest decisions. Headaches and high stress levels contribute to a decreased level of mental alertness. Short-term memory loss, confusion and mental fogginess are also reported by seniors suffering from dehydration.
Muscle, joint pains and cramps. Fluids act as natural lubricants that minimize friction between bones. Seniors may feel joint pains and muscle cramps making it difficult for them to perform activities of daily living. Cramps could be felt because muscles are not receiving enough nutrients or oxygen due to poor blood circulation.
Unusual food cravings. Water is essential to the body’s normal functioning and the brain may send different signals in an attempt to get people to start drinking again. A sudden urge to eat or drink means that the body is in survival mode and is trying to get its hands on much needed fluids.
Seniors suffering from dehydration may also notice decreased levels of urine output. This is a result of the body’s attempt to save as much fluids as possible. Elderly dehydration can easily be avoided by close monitoring.
Most of the senior homes and assisted living facilities are located in sunny states such as Florida and California. During hot summers, temperatures in these states could rise into unhealthy levels increasing the risk for heat stroke and dehydration among seniors.
Drinking sufficient amounts of water daily is a simple way of keeping dehydration at bay. Some contend that some drinks and foods could actually increase the rate of fluid loss. Beverages such as tea or coffee for example contain diuretics or substances that encourage urination. But new research has shown that in order for it to be health damaging you have to take abnormally large amounts (5 to7 cups). The amount of liquids contained in such beverages still outweighs its negative effects. Water or beverages are not our only sources for fluids. A great portion of our daily fluid intake comes from food.
How Much Water Should We Take?
Drinking eight or more large glasses of water daily has traditionally been the recommended amount of water intake. However, a study made by the American Journal of Physiology in 2002 said that there was inadequate evidence that healthy adults living in temperate climates and not engaged in rigorous activities need large amounts of water.
In 2004, the Institute of Medicine agreed with the findings and said that healthy adults may use thirst to determine fluid needs. However, athletes, individuals engaged in prolonged physical activities, people living in extremely hot areas and those suffering from medical conditions are still required to take more liquids.
Dehydration can easily be treated by replacing lost fluids. Educating seniors and long-term care providers in assisted living or long-term care facilities helps prevent the development of serious medical complications. Lack of fluids deprives the body of vital nourishment and its ability to cleanse itself. It doesn’t take much to keep ourselves healthy. Keeping sure that we keep ourselves hydrated especially during hot summer days saves us from the dangers of elderly dehydration.