Older adults are at an increased risk for dehydration especially during these warm summer months. As aging occurs, the water content of our body decreases. Did you know that the total body water content of an 80 year old is nearly 50% less than that of a younger adult? People often rely on thirst as a signal to drink. However, this puts people at risk because by the time we feel thirsty, our body is already dehydrated, and with normal aging, the sense of thirst decreases.
Thirst is not an accurate indicator of body fluid needs in the elderly. Dementia increases the risk of dehydration because people with dementia often forget to drink or forget what they drank. They may have difficulty communicating their needs, have difficulty swallowing, and often do not associate thirst with a need to drink.
Family members and caregivers of dementia patients know them the best. They are the ones who will likely be the first to notice changes in behavior and appearance.
The benefits of keeping patients properly hydrated FAR outweigh the risk of ignoring them. Fluids help keep people more alert, help decrease pain, reduce constipation, and keep them out of the hospital.
The first SEVERE symptoms of dehydration to occur are typically confusion and weakness. Chronic dehydration effects include kidney and heart damage, shortness of breath, pain, and lethargy.
It can be difficult to get someone with dementia to drink as much as they should. We recommend offering fluids CONSISTENTLY throughout the day, not just with meals and medications. Provide beverages that are well liked and tolerated. Make drinks/fluids easily accessible and assist those who cannot drink independently. Supervise those with difficulty swallowing.
Be sure to offer a variety of foods and drinks and keep in mind fluids can come from a variety of sources including popsicles, ice cream, yogurt, fruits and vegetables. A variety of fluids should be offered with all meals, between meals, and at all medication administrations. Include drinks during activities and programs, and keep in mind that some patients may need adaptive equipment such as cups with handles or straws.
Enjoy this season’s warm weather with your loved ones while ensuring that the body is properly hydrated!