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Dehydration and seniors

Linda-Michelle Ledesma, DO, is a provider at Banner Urgent Care located at 1215 S. Higley Road in Mesa. 

Question: Are seniors at higher risk for medical problems if not properly hydrated? 

Answer: Now that the triple-digit heat is here, it is critical that seniors keep hydrated to maintain their health and avoid life-threatening medical emergencies.

As temperatures increase, doctors often see more patients, especially seniors, with health problems that can be linked to dehydration. Those problems include confusion, irritability, low blood pressure, headaches, fatigue, and dizziness when standing.

These issues can often be solved through drinking more water. The old adage, “drink at least eight glasses of water daily” may be outdated. You want to drink when thirsty, but avoid excessive fluid intake. The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake for men is roughly about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day. The adequate intake for women is about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day.

Chronic dehydration can lead to a compromised immune system, constipation, seizures, kidney failure, heat injury and even death.

Seniors are at higher risk for dehydration due to some physiologic changes that may occur as we age. For example, a decrease in thirst sensitivity where they are less likely to recognize that they are thirsty. Also, they have a reduced amount of total body water as compared to someone younger. In other words, since they already have less water in their bodies to begin with, they will be affected by even small losses of water.  

Compounding the problem is that many seniors are on medications, such as diuretics for high-blood pressure and laxatives for constipation, which can cause fluid losses with more frequent urination or watery bowel movements.

In addition to drinking an adequate amount of water, people should also consider the following:

  • Add variety: Add lemon to water or mix in some fruit juice to add some flavor.
  • Eat water-rich foods: Fruits such as watermelon have a higher water content; veggies such as celery and cucumber also offer some hydration.
  • Monitor the color of your urine: “The lighter, the better.” Ideally, you want your urine to be pale yellow to clear.
  • Avoid exercising when it is hottest out: A person can lose up to 1 to 2 liters of fluid just in sweat. Best get your work-out in the gym! 
  • Make it convenient: Keep a glass or bottle of water on a bedside table or near a favorite chair; carry a water bottle with you when you go outside. Keep a container of water in your car, in case of emergencies.
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