If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it 10,000 times: “Drink more water.” But is drinking more water – and staying well-hydrated – really all that important?
Straight answer: Staying properly hydrated is vital to maintaining a healthy body and mind. Drinking enough water also helps prevent dehydration – a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition.
Why is staying hydrated a big deal? For starters, most of a healthy human body – about two-thirds of it – is comprised of good old H2O. (The body of a 150-pound person contains nearly 12 gallons of water – or over 97 pounds!) If you’re not getting enough water, you might say a piece of you is missing!
So, let’s cover 8 facts about hydration – to avoid dehydration – and to stay healthier overall. We will also address some questions you may have about water consumption and quenching your thirst. Let’s dive in!
8 facts on hydration for seniors
- 40% of seniors are chronically dehydrated
- Common causes of dehydration
- How much water is enough for seniors?
- Signs of dehydration
- Remedies for dehydration
- Tips on staying well hydrated
- The health-giving benefits of drinking enough water
- What is an electrolyte, and why should I care?
1. 40% of seniors are chronically dehydrated
It may not surprise you that older people are at a heightened risk for dehydration. But this might: According to a UCLA study, almost 40% of seniors are chronically underhydrated. The age group also has the highest hospital admittance rates for dehydration.
Dehydration accelerates more quickly in seniors and may cause damage before the dehydrated individual can effectively rehydrate. Dehydrated seniors are prone to urinary tract infections, kidney stones and balance problems leading to falls. Other risk factors for older people include heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
This means prevention is important – and knowledge is the key to prevention. The good news is, avoiding dehydration can be simple for most of us if we know the right strategies – and follow them.
2. Common causes of dehydration
What are the causes of dehydration in older adults?
Dehydration happens when your body doesn’t have as much water as it needs. Without the right amount of fluid, your body can’t function properly.
If the body’s water content is reduced, it upsets the balance of minerals in the body, causing dehydration.
Common causes of dehydration in seniors include:
- “Thirst signals” – or sense of thirst – have diminished, which is common as we grow older
- Vigorous exercise without replacing fluids
- Medications such as diuretics, antihistamines, laxatives and others
- Reduced kidney function related to age, as more water may be lost through urination
- Cognitive impairment – forgetting to drink fluids
- Other contributing factors including hot and/or dry weather, excessive perspiration, fever, diarrhea and more
3. How much water is enough for seniors?
Follow this simple rule of thumb: Take one-third of your weight, and drink that many ounces of water each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you’ll need 50 ounces of water daily – or about six 8-ounce glasses.
Other sources suggest 64 ounces of fluid per day, which may include fluid contained in water-rich foods, and from drinks other than water. Also note that more water is required in dry and/or hot climates to stay fully hydrated.
4. Signs of dehydration
Next, let’s cover some of the major signs and symptoms of dehydration in older adults. (Helpful hint: If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, don’t ignore it. Contact your healthcare provider and have it checked out.) Be on the lookout for:
- Thirst that can’t be quenched
- Dry, sticky mouth
- Constipation, diarrhea or vomiting
- Muscle cramps
- Infrequent urination or dark-colored urine
- Unexplained tiredness, sleepiness or lethargy
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
- Disorientation or confusion
- Low blood pressure or a fast pulse that is also weak
- Wrinkled skin with reduced elasticity
- Difficulty walking
This is not a complete list. For a more thorough discussion of dehydration symptoms in elderly people, review the article linked above.
5. Remedies for dehydration
If you believe you might be dehydrated, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible. Serious dehydration might require hospitalization, where IV treatment is used to reintroduce fluids and needed nutrients back into the system. If your condition hasn’t advanced too far, your healthcare provider might suggest some things you can do at home – and some things you must avoid – such as:
- Drink plenty of fluids, such as water and fruit juice
- Consume a rehydration product like Gatorade® or another sports drink. These contain electrolytes – essential minerals like potassium and sodium that support hydration.
- Avoid soft drinks and other beverages with lots of added sugar
- Avoid beer, wine and spirits
- Go easy on tea and coffee, which may worsen dehydration
6. Tips on staying well hydrated
Of course, the best way to treat dehydration is to avoid it in the first place. Here is a to-do list on hydration for seniors, including some helpful suggestions for keeping yourself healthy and properly hydrated.
- Drink water, milk and juice
- Set “time to drink” reminders on your phone, digital assistant or kitchen timer. Drink fluids at every reminder. Set it and follow it!
- Rather than consuming a day’s worth of water in one sitting, space it out throughout the day. Sip, don’t gulp! This is the easiest way to ensure your body is getting the fluids it needs.
- When it’s hot outdoors or you’re very active, drink more water.
- Mix things up to defeat boredom and stay motivated. Try a squeeze of lemon, lime or even orange into your water. Or slice up/chop citrus, cucumber, mint or basil, put it in a pitcher and let it infuse its essence into the water.
- Include high-water-content fruits and vegetables in your diet, like oranges, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, bell peppers and grapes.
- Eat other foods with high water content, including yogurt, soup, broth, popsicles and smoothies.
- Some seniors find the solution to living a healthier lifestyle is to join a community of older adults where they can thrive.
7. The health-giving benefits of drinking enough water
Drinking enough water and other healthy fluids is one of the most important things you can do to lead a healthy, active life. This miracle liquid lubricates joints and eyes, promotes proper digestion, flushes away toxins and waste products, and keeps skin looking healthy.
Here are some other benefits of proper hydration for seniors:
- You’ll be more regular, as in avoiding constipation and the need for laxatives
- You’ll find it easier to walk and maintain better balance
- It helps keep your urinary tract in healthy working condition
- Your brain will work better and you’ll feel more emotional stability with reduced anxiety
- It supports normal circulation and oxygen flow in your body, which may help you feel more energetic
- Drinking water between meals can help you feel fuller, which may help you manage your weight
- The right level of fluid intake supports heart health. Look here for more tips on maintaining a healthy heart.
- Consuming water helps your body’s natural detoxification process
- Good hydration reduces the chance of headaches and migraines
- You’ll reduce the risk of bladder cancer (especially for men) and colorectal cancer
- You’ll find it easier to rehab from orthopedic surgery
8. What is an electrolyte, and why should I care?
Electrolytes are essential minerals – such as sodium, potassium and magnesium – that play a central role in proper hydration as well as overall health. When our body runs low on electrolytes, it’s hard to stay hydrated – even if we are drinking enough water.
Electrolytes are lost through sweat, urine and feces. They are replaced by eating foods like leafy greens, meat, nuts and legumes. Beverages and supplements can also be helpful. Some readily available sports drinks have the right ingredients – just make sure they don’t contain too much sugar or artificial colors. Once commonly used for rehydration in children, Pedialyte® for older adults may be a good option.
Keeping hydrated: Water you waiting for?
Hydration is important for everyone, but especially for seniors. Since older people can become seriously dehydrated quickly, your best option is to take steps to prevent it.
Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to reach for some water. By the time you feel parched and dry, you may already be dehydrated. That’s why it’s smart to create a plan and set a regular hydration schedule.
Know the symptoms of dehydration and stay vigilant while focusing on the many benefits of drinking water and staying properly hydrated.