Senior Living Advice: Hydration is essential, especially during summer

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By BETH DOW, Senior Living Advice

Even if you have never had an issue with dehydration and are over the age of 55, you especially need to pay close attention to hydration during the summer months. Need proof? Adults aged 65-and-over have the highest hospital admission rate for dehydration.

So why does your risk of dehydration increase as you age?  Older adults naturally have less water in their bodies.  And the rise for dehydration occurs when you add the increase of medications taken due to health conditions – such as meds for high blood pressure.

As we age, folks are less sensitive to feeling thirsty. In the summer, people also sweat more, causing us to lose more moisture through our skin than in the cooler months.  It’s not uncommon for a senior to lose a little over two pounds of water in an hour just doing some reasonably intense activity outside, such as yard work or exercise in 80-degree weather with some moderate humidity.

Very often the symptoms of dehydration in older adults go unnoticed or could possibly be attributed to something else.  Common symptoms include dry mouth, dark-colored urine or a very small amount of urine, fatigue, dizziness, muscle cramps, headaches, feeling weak or being sleepy or irritable, bad breath  and constipation.   

The brain is 70 percent water, therefore, if the water levels are too low, brain cells cannot function properly. Seniors may also feel disoriented or cognitively impaired as a recent study out of Georgia Tech found that just two hours of dehydration can greatly affect concentration and reaction time.

To check to see if you may be dehydrated you can perform the turgor or skin elasticity test.  To do this, gently pinch the skin on your arm or stomach with two fingers so that it makes a “tent” shape. Then let the skin go. Check to see if the skin springs back to its normal position in one to three seconds.  If the skin is slow to return to normal, you might be dehydrated.

Seniors can also do the nail capillary refill test.  When your nail bed is pinched, it blanches or whitens. This happens because blood is forced out. Normally blood returns in two seconds or less. If you’re dehydrated, it may take longer for the area to return to a pink shade. To perform the test :hold the testing hand above your heart. Press or pinch your nail bed until it turns white.  Release the pressure. Count how many seconds it takes for color to return to your nail bed.

In most cases, you can treat dehydration by simply drinking more water.  The U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine recommend a daily intake of 15.5 cups of water for men and 11.5 cups of water for women.

Remember … not all fluids hydrate.  Caffeine found in tea, coffee and soft drinks will actually contribute to your dehydration.  Drinks like Gatorade and other sports drinks can aid in not only hydrating your body but can add electrolytes that may also be missing.

Foods can be hydrating also.  Cucumbers are 96% water. Tomatoes are 94%, watermelon and grapes are 92% water.  And cantaloupe, oranges, bell peppers, blueberries and apples are all more than 84% water.

This summer, be aware of your what your body is telling you. Keep up with your water intake and begin good hydration habits that will last a lifetime.

Beth Dow is a Dementia and Alzheimer’s Educator, CAEd and Geriatric Care Manager. Readers can contact her at [email protected].

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