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5 Serious Mistakes That Can Lead to Dehydration in Seniors

 Did you know that a third to half of all seniors are dehydrated? Scientific evidence points out that this is a serious and widespread problem, especially since dehydration in older adults can have dire consequences. In this article, we delve deeper into this issue and discuss 5 common misconceptions that cause dehydration in seniors.

How Common Is Dehydration Among Seniors?

According to the latest scientific estimates, up to 50% of all seniors are chronically dehydrated. With age, one’s ability to retain and hydrate all the cells in the body decreases, which means that older adults will be more susceptible to dehydration than younger adults.

dehydration in seniors elderly woman drinking water
Certain medications, such as diuretics and laxatives, as well as certain conditions, e.g. reduced kidney function, likewise make you lose water faster. All these factors increase the risk of dehydration in seniors and require them to pay closer attention to how much liquid they consume each day, especially since the health stakes of dehydration in older adults are much higher than those in younger people.

What Are the Dangers of Dehydration in Older Adults?

Not drinking enough can have serious repercussions on the health of seniors. Definitely, the most alarming issue is that of increased mortality and risk of serious impairment after stroke, with dehydrated patients being twice as likely not to survive and more than twice as likely to suffer impairment post-stroke than those who have adequate liquid intake.

Apart from that, dehydration can make you feel more tired, weak and dizzy, which increases one’s risk of falls, and affect your cognitive functioning, namely memory, attention, and ability to concentrate. Other common harmful effects of dehydration include:

  • low blood pressure
  • decreased kidney health
  • constipation.

​​Related Article: 11 Vital Health Reasons You Must Avoid Dehydration

​Needless to say, the consequences of dehydration in older adults are quite adverse. Luckily, it is possible to avoid these harmful effects by keeping up balanced fluid intake. Let's learn how you can avoid dehydration by looking at 5 common mistakes seniors make that can result in dehydration.

Mistake 1. Not Knowing How Much to Drink

dehydration in seniors water being poured into a glass
Sometimes, it's very difficult to keep up with the latest recommendations, as some studies suggest that the 8 glasses of water a day rule is arbitrary, and others suggest you should drink a whole gallon of water daily. This is further complicated by different recommended liquid intakes per weight and age, turning daily needs into a matter of heated scientific debate.
To make things simple, let's enunciate and stick to the most up-to-date medical recommendations: ​doctors currently advise senior women to drink 8 glasses of liquids per day, and elderly men should drink 10 glasses. You can also ask your health provider or family doctor if you have any health conditions or other factors that require a higher or lower daily liquid intake.

Mistake 2. Assuming Liquids and Food Other Than Water Don't Count

dehydration in seniors senior man drinking coffee
If water is your preferred drink, there's nothing wrong with exclusively consuming water, but do keep in mind that, contrary to popular misconceptions, all liquids and even most foods will contribute to your daily liquid intake. Juices, milk, yogurts, tea, and coffee all consist primarily of water, so these will be just as hydrating for you as water.
In one study, scientists compared hydration levels in participants who drank equal quantities of water and coffee and found that the group that drank only coffee was just as hydrated as those who only drank water.
When trying to reach your daily liquid intake, don't forget about fruit and vegetables either, as some of these, such as watermelons, cucumbers, and strawberries, just to name a few, consist more than 90% of water. We even have an interactive article about the most hydrating fruit and veggies to give you some ideas, which you can access here: 16 Juicy Foods That Will Hydrate You Nearly as Well as Water

Mistake 3. Believing One Can't Drink Enough Because of Certain Restrictions

dehydration in seniors nursery worker helping elderly man drink water
Reaching a mature age can be accompanied by certain restrictions, some of which can limit your daily liquid intake, but they shouldn't. A recent study that interviewed people past the age of 75 about the issues they face in maintaining proper hydration levels found, for example, that seniors often worry about losing bladder control, even if they don't suffer from incontinence, and this fear makes them avoid liquids.
Patients suffering from chronic joint pain and swallowing difficulties likewise tend to drink less to avoid pain. While these issues may prompt patients to restrict their fluid intake, it's important to remember that avoiding dehydration is crucial for your health. You can work together with your doctor and family to make accommodations that would free you of the stigma surrounding incontinence and reduce the pain you experience. Making the bathroom easily accessible, for example, can minimize the pain you experience when moving around. 

Mistake 4. Only Drinking When Thirsty or Active

dehydration in seniors senior woman holding a bottle of water on the beach
If you think you can only get dehydrated when it's hot outside, or when you spend time outdoors, think again. The truth is that you can even become dehydrated when you sleep or sit on the couch all day, as our body requires water to carry out all sorts of important chemical reactions and metabolic processes literally all the time.
What further complicates the issue is that, as we age, our sense of thirst becomes less reliable than it was when we were young. This is especially true in people who suffer from dementia, diabetes, or those who had a stroke since these conditions damage the nervous system and can dramatically worsen one's ability to experience thirst. That's why seniors or their caretakers should make a conscious decision to maintain an adequate liquid intake, even if it sometimes involves forcing yourself to drink.

Mistake 5. Drinking Water on an Empty Stomach

dehydration in seniors elderly woman holding a glass of water in one hand and an apple in the other hand
If hydration is your goal, drinking plain water on an empty stomach is not so useful. This is because our body mainly absorbs the water together with electrolytes and other micronutrients, and pure drinking water has very little of those.
According to a 2015 study, drinking milk or orange juice for breakfast was more hydrating than drinking plain water, for example. So, to maintain better fluid balance, it's best to jumpstart your day by eating a light breakfast with a glass of water on the side, or by enjoying a different drink, such as milk or juice, instead of just water.
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