Dehydration: A Hidden Danger for Seniors

Dehydration might seem like it belongs on the less serious end of the senior illness spectrum, but the condition actually affects everything from energy levels to organ health. Some medications for the elderly depend on adequate hydration levels to prevent toxicity.

Unfortunately, seniors are at higher risk for dehydration than any other age group. To make matters worse, they’re also a lot less likely to show symptoms of dehydration until it’s severe.

Why’s that? Well for starters, there is a decrease in our total body water levels that occurs naturally as we age. A senior over the age of sixty has less water to lose in the first place, so even mild dehydration can have a more profound effect.

Age also impacts our ability to feel thirst. Seniors often don’t realize they’re thirsty, so it doesn’t occur to them to drink water as early (or as often) as they should.

Some medications have a tendency to dehydrate the body, and some medical conditions common among the elderly can complicate or mask dehydration. These include stroke, obesity, incontinence, diarrhea, and any condition confining a patient to bed. recommends that caregivers and close family members keep a watchful eye open for the following signs of dehydration in the elderly.

Mild Dehydration:

  • Dry mouth
  • Changes in urination (especially passing small amounts of urine or dark urine)
  • Headaches
  • Crying but producing few tears, if any
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Cramping in arms or legs
  • Irritability
  • A general feeling of being unwell

Severe Dehydration:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Bloating
  • Severe cramping or contractions in arms, legs, back, or stomach
  • Rapid, weak pulse
  • Convulsions
  • Wrinkled skin with little or no elasticity
  • Dry, sunken eyes
  • Rapid breathing

Fortunately, dehydration is easily treated if detected in time. Recognizing it is the problem, especially in the elderly. If you are currently caring for a senior, be sure to monitor their fluid intake and remember that red flags aren’t always as obvious as we might expect them to be.


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