Summer is a fantastic time to enjoy the great Australian outdoors, but it can also pose some risks for the older members of our community – especially when it comes to hydration.
Water plays an important role in how our body functions. It help sregulate our body temperature, flushes toxins from the body, carries oxygen and nutrients to our cells, and acts as a shock absorber for our brains.
So, it goes without saying that keeping up our fluid levels is key to good health. Studies have shown that not getting enough water can not only cause constipation, but is linked to serious long-term health conditions such as infections, bladder cancer and heart disease. On the flip side, staying hydrated not only makes your body feel good, but boosts mental wellbeing, prevents muscle cramps, alleviates some headaches, helps prevent urinary tract infections and keeps the digestive system in good order. That’s plenty of reasons to get enough water in you!
Dehydration, a condition when a person loses more fluid from their body than they take in, is a common risk for seniors. This is because we lose our sense of thirst as we age, leading us to consume less fluids. This is more pronounced in people with dementia, as memory loss is a contributor to losing track of daily meals and drinking less on a regular basis. Problems with toileting and continence can also cause significant amounts of anxiety, impacting a person’s willingness to drink throughout the day.
Symptoms of dehydration
It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of dehydration as you age, or if you care for someone who is elderly. Mild to moderate dehydration symptoms include:
- a dry mouth, lips and tongue
- dark urine (in most cases, odourless and pale-coloured urine is a sign of good hydration, while strong-smelling and dark-coloured urine indicates dehydration)
- dizziness or light-headedness
- flushed skin
Severe dehydration is a more serious condition. Symptoms include:
- extreme thirst
- dry mouth
- lethargy or drowsiness
- rapid breathing
- fast heart rate
- low blood pressure
- little or no urine
- high fever
- blue lips and blotchy skin
- cold hands and feet
- weak and rapid pulse
Severe hydration needs immediate medical treatment, so call 000 if you suspect this is the case. Mild dehydration can be treated by consuming more fluids (except for tea, coffee or alcohol). If you need help getting your loved one to drink more or suspect they are suffering from mild dehydration, speak to your loved one’s home carer, GP or other medical professional for advice.
Tips on how to stay hydrated
Drinking enough fluids each day can be challenging as we age and our sense of thirst decreases. Here are some tips on how to ensure you (or your loved one) stays hydrated.
Build drinking water into your daily routine
To stay on top of your fluid intake, put ‘drink a glass of water’ in your daily routine, e.g. first thing in the morning, after lunch, in the afternoon, before bath, with medication. This can help seniors remember to drink water throughout the day, rather than waiting until they feel thirsty and not drinking enough as a result.
Have fresh water readily available throughout your home
It’s much easier to consume fluid if it’s easy to access and within reach all the time. Make sure water is readily available throughout your home, perhaps in a small jug where you can reach if turning on taps or finding glasses is an issue.
Drink small amounts regularly rather than large amounts rarely
It’s much better to drink small amounts of water on a regular basis than trying to down a large glass less frequently. If you’re concerned about the amount of water your loved one is drinking, try offering them a little more fluid each time you offer them a drink.
Remember that coffee, tea and alcohol dehydrates the body
If dehydration is an issue, it’s best to drink alcohol, tea and coffee in moderate amounts, to ensure your body stays well hydrated. If you do consume these drinks, remember to counteract their effects by drinking plenty of extra water.
Make water appealing to drink
There are plenty of ways to make water more palatable to drink, such as offering fruit teas, adding a slice of lemon, mint leaves or berries, ortrying carbonated water. Homemade fruit ice blocks are also a lovely treat on a hot day.
Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables
Food can be another source of hydration, as water is found in many fruits and vegetables. High fluid foods like jelly, cucumber sticks, a bowl of fruit salad, soup in cooler weather, broth or healthy smoothies can also be a good option if it’s hard to encourage your loved one to drink plain water.
Offer water at room temperature
If dehydration is an issue, it’s best to drink or offer either warm or room temperature water. This is because chilled water is not only hard to drink in high volumes, but also contracts the stomach and makes digestion harder.
If in doubt, seek professional help
If you are struggling to drink (or to get your loved one to drink) and are noticing the symptoms of dehydration, don’t hesitate to seek help – the sooner the better. Some medications can also cause dehydration. If you suspect this may be the case, speak to your GP or your loved one’s doctor.