Health of the Elderly
  • Dehydration.  A third of seniors are chronically dehydrated and unaware that the condition may be responsible for health problems such as dizziness, headache, weakness, confusion, a decline in cognitive function, and constipation.  Many people who seem to have UTIs are actually just dehydrated.

    One in 5 falls result in a serious injury, such as a broken bone or head injury, and a serious fall is a "game changer" for seniors, not only because of the injuries they sustain, but because they fear falling again.  They become less mobile, and that triggers a downward cycle. 

    Many seniors do not drink enough water
    , because they fear the difficulty of getting to the bathroom and the risk of falling, especially during the night.  However, dehydration can make seniors more likely to fall, and falls are the leading cause of injuries.  Dehydration can build up over 2 to 3 weeks.  It is a slow loss of water, and most people don't realize that it's happening until they fall. 

    The kidneys' ability to retain water decreases with age.  The aging body is also less able to perceive thirst.  That is one reason so many elderly people die during heat waves, not realizing their body is dangerously low on fluids. 

    Outward signs of dehydration can include irritability, exhaustion, dark urine, a dry mouth and tongue, and decreased urine and tears.  You can also test for dehydration by performing a skin "recoil" test.  Pinch a fold of skin on the forearm or hand and watch how quickly it returns to normal.  If the skin is slow to flatten and remains in the form of a tent, the person may be moderately or severely dehydrated. 

    Strategies to avoid dehydration. 

    • If anyone complains of the symptoms listed above, tell them to "Drink some water!" 
    • Everyone's needs are different, but at a minimum, older adults should aim to drink 4 oz (1/2 cup) every 4 hours that they are awake. 
    • Develop a water schedule similar to a schedule for taking medicine. 
    • Create reminders and prompts using smartphones or other devices.
    • Put water, or preferred beverages (like milk, orange juice, Pedialyte), in close proximity to adults throughout the day, and use the medication schedule as an opportunity to take water. 
    • Provide seniors with foods that have high water content, such as lettuce, watermelon and broccoli, and serve broth soups. 
    • Focus on the mobility issues that can cause a senior to not drink enough, because they don't want to go to the bathroom.  A half-hour of light exercise 5 times a week can help sustain mobility, and the exercise does not have to be vigorous.  Something as simple as marching in place while brushing their teeth can help. 
      (Source:  Dr. Bruce Naughton, physician, Buffalo, N.York and VP of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield; "More water may solve many health problems of older Amerians," by Jennifer Graham, Deseret News, April 9, 2017)