Support for Caregivers of Older Adults
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Hydration

 
 Overview    ↓ next top ↑
  • Older adults are at increased risk for dehydration because of age-related changes.
  • Signs of dehydration include skin tenting in the forehead, concentrated urine, dizziness, increased heart rate, dryness in the nose and mouth, constipation, and acute confusion.
  • Healthy older adults should aim for 1.5 – 2 litres (6 – 8 glasses) of liquid intake per day.
 
 Introduction    ↓ next top ↑
  • Water is a nutrient and an essential component of the body for maintaining life. Water transports wastes, supports tissue and cell structure, and regulates temperature.
  • The lack of water in the body – dehydration – may result from either a decrease in fluid intake or an increase in fluid loss. Dehydration can be an important factor in illness and even death.
  • Older people are especially prone to dehydration because of age-related changes in how water is used in the body.
  • It is essential that caregivers understand how to identify, and prevent, this potentially life-threatening condition.
 
 What You Should Know    ↓ next top ↑
 
 Age-Related Changes 

Certain aging changes increase the older person's risk of developing dehydration.
  • The function of the kidneys, which helps to regulate fluid, declines with aging.
  • The ability to recognize thirst decreases with aging -- sometimes older people don't realize they are thirsty.
  • With aging, the amount of body water decreases. So even a small change in fluid intake can cause dehydration.
 
  Other Factors    ↓ next top ↑

The following factors can lead to fluid loss and dehydration:
  • kidney problems or diabetes
  • medications such as diuretics (water pills) increase the amount of fluid excreted from the body
  • conditions such as Parkinson's disease, stroke, or dementia may cause swallowing difficulties that can lead to a decrease in fluid intake
 
 Signs of Dehydration    ↓ next top ↑

Signs of dehydration include:
  • dry mouth and nose
  • loose and/or dry skin
  • skin "tenting" in the forehead
  • increased tiredness and/or weakness
  • restlessness
  • sudden (acute) confusion
  • concentrated urine
  • dizziness and orthostatic hypotension (standing causes sudden drop in blood pressure, feeling dizzy, and even fainting)
  • increased heart rate
  • loss of appetite
  • constipation
  • nausea and vomiting
Some of these symptoms, such as dry mouth, loose and/or dry skin, and constipation, may occur as a result of age-related changes rather than dehydration.
 
 How to Avoid Dehydration    ↓ next top ↑

To help avoid dehydration, older adults should be encouraged to:
  • Identify medications that may cause fluid loss, e.g., diuretics (water pills). 
  • Drink 1.5 – 2 litres (6 – 8 glasses) of fluids per day (unless medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, rule out this amount). 
  • Keep a variety of beverages available (that are okay with your specific diet, e.g., diabetes), as well as foods containing water (e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt). 
  • Drink frequently during the daytime, rather than drinking large amounts at one time.
 
 When Medical Help is Needed    ↓ next top ↑

Seek medical attention:
  • if symptoms of dehydration persist, or
  • if you observe swallowing difficulties such as choking or coughing excessively after eating or drinking
 
 Resources  top ↑

Dietitians of Canada
  • Main Website: The Dietitians of Canada website provides information on healthy eating and dietary options.
  • Beat The Heat With Lots of Fluids: An article that provides information about water, including tips for adequate hydration.
Health Canada – Canada's Food Guide
  • Main Website: The purpose of Canada's Food Guide is to guide food selection and promote the nutritional health of Canadians.
  • Beverages: Information about choosing and enjoying beverages.
Peterborough County – Hydration and Seniors
  • A succinct article explaining why water is important for seniors as well as providing both good and bad examples of fluids.
Mayo Clinic – Dehydration
  • A comprehensive article from the Mayo Clinic about dehydration, including signs and symptoms, causes, complications, treatment and prevention.
HealthyOntario.com
  • An overview by HealthyOntario.com about Dehydration.
Illinois Council on Long Term Care
  • The Importance of Water includes information about dehydration and the elderly and taking a proactive approach to preventing dehydration.
Canadian Health Network
  • This webpage answers the question, "Why is water so important for my body?"
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