Preventing Dehydration in Seniors

Preventing Dehydration in Seniors

  • On July 27, 2018
  • causes of incontinence, dehydration, incontinence in seniors

It is estimated that between 6 and 30 percent of hospitalised people aged 65 years and older are dehydrated. It is by far the most common fluid or electrolyte disorder among older people. Dehydration in seniors is a problem that requires more research and understanding.

Why are Seniors More at Risk of Becoming Dehydrated?

Ageing is associated with a decline in a number of physiological functions that can impact nutritional status, including reduced lean body mass. Older individuals have a gradual decrease in basal metabolic rate, decreased gastric secretion of digestive juices and changes in the oral cavity. As we get older, body water content decreases and the risk for dehydration increases. Water makes up about 55 to 65 percent of your body. In addition to providing us with energy, water is a vital ingredient in the chemistry that helps your brain think. It is also responsible for muscle movement and blood flow. Shockingly, it is estimated that our body water content decreases by approximately 15% between the ages of 20 and 80. Seniors have a reduced sensation of thirst, which may be even more pronounced in those with Alzheimer’s Disease or those who have suffered a stroke. Seniors can often have a disability or condition which means they can’t voice their needs effectively. Dehydration has also been associated with various morbidities, including impaired cognition or confusion. Other factors such as being unable to detect temperature change is another risk factor for dehydration. Poorly hydrated individuals are more likely to develop pressure sores and skin conditions.


Other risk factors for dehydration include:

-Requiring assistance with foods and fluids

-Inadequate numbers of appropriately trained staff to assist


-Various medications such as diuretics


Interestingly, senior incontinence and dehydration often come hand in hand. Being incontinent can cause dehydration due to an excessive loss of fluid. On the other hand, dehydration can be a severe risk factor for incontinence. Whilst you may think that avoiding liquid is the best solution for treating incontinence, dehydration can actually irritate the bladder further. Not drinking enough liquid can cause the urine to become very concentrated. This collection of concentrated salts can irritate your bladder and make urinary incontinence worse. In many cases, it causes constipation or bladder irritation.


Ensuring Seniors Stay Dehydrated

Dehydration is a sentinel event though to reflect poor care. It is important for facilities to have an interdisciplinary educational focus on the prevention of dehydration in view of the poor outcomes associated with its development. Although it is often caused by physiological factors and disease processes, carers and facilities should also ensure they do not neglect the issue. Neglect and lack of education can cause and even worsen incontinence symptoms. If you are taking care of a senior, it is important to look out for the following symptoms:


  • Craving for sugar. The process of glycogen production involves water and glucose, the body’s circulating sugar. If the body is dehydrated, it is more difficult for the body to produce glycogen.
  • When you become dehydrated, your brain tissue loses water, causing your brain to shrink and pull away from the skull. This triggers the pain receptors surrounding the brain, giving you a headache.
  • Fever and chills. Dehydration can lead to hyperthermia and fever-like symptoms because over-heating can alter your body’s normal temperature set point. Even a 5% loss of body water can lead to heat exhaustion.
  • Dry Skin. When the body is dehydrated, skin lacks elasticity and won’t bounce back. Health care specialist Goldberg asserts “if you pinch your skin and it appears thin and doesn’t melt back onto your body quickly, you’re dehydrated”.
  • Muscle Cramps. Wide spread muscle cramping is a key sign of dehydration in the fluid spaces surrounding certain muscles.
  • Bad Breath. Interestingly, saliva has antibacterial properties, but dehydration can prevent your body from making enough saliva.


Severe dehydration can cause fainting, organ damage and even mortality. Ensure you encourage elderly individuals to drink fluids throughout the day so they do not forget about drinking. Getting the balance right is crucial. Dr Rosser recommends seniors drink two litres of fluid a day, which equates to eight 8-ounce glasses. This is particularly important for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases. Making this part of a daily routine is much easier, so it seems less like a chore and more of a lifestyle habit. Consider creating a schedule for drinking fluids to ensure seniors are staying healthy. Try and invest in liquids such as fruit juices and pre-flavoured waters rather than water. This will make liquid consumption more interesting and enjoyable for seniors. Bear in mind that some vegetables such as cucumbers and celery sticks are fluid-filled snacks that can benefit seniors. Cucumbers, grapefruit, lettuce and watermelon are other foods that are beneficial for maintaining hydration.



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