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Tuesday, 12 September 2017 00:00

Elderly Dehydration: Causes & Prevention

Spotting dehydration in an elderly parent or patient can be tricky at the best of times. It’s one of those ailments that shows small tell-tale signs, yet has a great effect on the body. All too often dehydration in the elderly is caught too late and leads to the development of serious conditions such as urinary tract and bladder infections, pneumonia and even bed sores, all the while exacerbating dementia and Alzheimer’s behaviours.

In basic terms, dehydration occurs when you lose more water than you consume. An adequate fluid intake allows your body to help with regulating your temperature, maintain blood pressure and eliminate unnecessary bodily waste.

When it comes to elderly care, some of the most common causes for dehydration include:

Daily medications

Many elderly patients take several different types of medications on any given day. Some of these may be diuretic, while others may cause patients to perspire more. It’s important to keep track of medications and take into consideration that this could be an underlying cause, replacing fluid loss when needed.

Decreased thirst

As you age, your sense of thirst tends to become less acute. Additionally, the frailer your patient, the less inclined they are to get up and get themselves a drink. Monitoring your patient or parent’s fluid intake throughout the day will help to avoid dehydration.

Decreased kidney function

With age our kidneys lose around 0.5% of their function from 35-40 years onwards. This means that we are less able to conserve fluids. These physiological changes increase the risk of dehydration making it all the more important to ensure that fluid intake, especially over the age of 60, is monitored and controlled.

Illness

Excessive vomiting or diarrhoea in an elderly patient who is sick or frail is a fast-track way to becoming severely dehydrated. Make sure to replace fluid as much as possible during times of illness!

What do the tell-tale signs look like?

Classic symptoms most elderly patients will display include: confusion, difficulty walking, dizziness, headaches, sunken eyes, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, constipation and dry mouth. Not all of these signs are outwardly visible and your patient will most likely not notice, or may lack the cognitive ability to fully realise what they are feeling. That’s why keeping an eye out, doing regular checks and monitoring fluid intake is vital.

In order to prevent dehydration, make sure your patient or loved one is well hydrated throughout the day in the form of not only water, but also water-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and soups. Try and avoid too many cups of coffee, as though they are largely water based, coffee is also diuretic and can lead to a further loss of fluid. Introducing a urine colour test into your patient’s daily routine, making sure to check that the urine is light in colour, will give you a good indication as to the state of their hydration as dark urine or infrequency of urination is a classic sign of dehydration!

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