Preventing Your Elderly Loved One from Dehydration in the Summer

The dog days of summer are coming up—with temperatures in many areas rising above 90 and even 100 for days on end. This is the season when many elderly people easily become dehydrated—a serious condition that can lead to many medical problems and even death.

Dehydration is nothing other than an inadequate amount of water in the body. The body needs water to regulate its internal temperature. Water passing through our cells picks up heat, which we release through our skin pores as sweat. The body also uses water to regulate the salt content of our cells, and to clean out toxins that can cause infections as well as inflammation in our joints. Urination is a key bodily process to eliminate water containing cellular wastes and toxins.

Most importantly, when the body has a low level of water, the heart may pump at a higher rate—an especially dangerous condition in an elderly person who is already suffering from a heart ailment. If dehydration occurs, it can worsen the heart condition and lead to death.

The main factor causing dehydration is simply not drinking enough liquids to replenish the body’s needs for water. Not eating also plays a role, as when food is digested, it produces water as well. The hot weather of summer can exacerbate the risk of dehydration because the body sweats more (even if sweat is not visible) and the heat often makes the elderly feel like eating and doing less.

Recognizing the Signs of Dehydration

Detecting the symptoms of dehydration can be difficult. Your loved one may seem to be just tired, upset, or a bit cranky—clues that you might take for normal. So it is important to pay close attention to any of the following signs, especially when summer heat is upon you:

  • Dark urine color. Some medications alter the color of normal urine, but if you see dark urine, it could indicate that there is not enough water in the body to dilute waste products and toxins.
  • Difficulty urinating. This could indicate a urinary tract infection, often a sign of dehydration.
  • Infrequent urination. Without enough water in the body, the frequency of urination will go down as the body tries to preserve enough water internally.
  • Dry mouth. This is a sure sign of dehydration as it indicates that the body is not producing enough saliva.
  • Cloudy thinking, forgetfulness. Lack of water in brain cells causes confusion, befuddled thinking, loss of mental alertness, short-term memory loss, and difficulty with decision making. These symptoms should not be simply taken as sign of age, but rather serious indications of dehydration.
  • Fatigue. Lack of sufficient water means that the heart is working harder to distribute blood to the body with nutrients and oxygen. This can lead your loved one to feel tired and weak.
  • Muscle aches, headaches, joint pains, cramps. When circulation slows down, the brain directs blood away from the skin and muscles into organs where water is needed. This means that body does not release its internal heat, leading to muscle cramps or headaches. Without fluids in the joints to act as lubricants, seniors may also feel achy or get muscle cramping.
  • Food cravings. If your loved expresses a desire for some unusual food or is suddenly hungry, it could be a sign that the body is in survival mode and needs water.

How to Prevent Dehydration

If you notice any of the above signs, the first action to take is to attempt immediately to get your loved one to drink water, juice, or another beverage. They may protest that they are not thirsty, but this could be a reflection of their cloudy thinking. You may have been told that coffee and tea are bad to drink because they are diuretics that cause urination, but research shows that the benefits of drinking any liquid outweigh the urination.

At the minimum, offer your loved one a cup of chipped ice that they can suck on to cool down. Secondly, try to get the person to eat some food as this may help develop their thirst as well as provide some water in the digestion process. Also, arrange for your loved one to be out of the heat, preferably in an air-conditioned location where they will sweat out less water. Above all, be sure that you pay continue paying attention to the signs of dehydration.

HomeWell’s professional staff are happy to talk to you about recognizing dehydration in the elderly so you can prevent this dangerous condition in your loved one.