Chronic Dehydration in Older Adults

When you consider that one of the first things emergency room specialists do for a new hospital admission is to check for edema (water retention) and to place an IV for fluids bag—it might show us just how important hydration really is.

Chronic Dehydration in Older Adults

Often with aging adults, dehydration can be caused by more than meets the eye. For example, if bladder control becomes more difficult, individuals will often compensate by drinking less water to avoid accidents. Thirst perception can decrease during the aging process, and difficulty swallowing can lead to decreased fluid intakes through the day. Lack of mobility or pain and difficulty getting up to go to the restroom can result in a decreased intake for elderly adults as well.

When you are not hydrated, your body has a more difficult time getting rid of normal toxins that result from eating, breathing, maintaining body heat, and overall metabolism. Medications can stay in your system longer, not to mention an increased risk of kidney problems and decreased blood flow to important areas of the body, such as the brain and vital organs.

How Much Water Do I Need?

The recommended intake for adults aged 55 years and above is 0.46 oz per pound of body weight, with a minimum of 1500ml daily, or about 50 fluid ounces.  Putting that into numbers most of us understand, just take half your body weight—and the number you get is the amount of ounces of fluid you need minimum each day.

For example, if you weigh 180 pounds, then you will need to aim for about 90 oz of water each day. Divide this number into a common water bottle size, like 16.9fl oz in most water bottles, and you can see you’ll need to drink about 5 bottles of fluids minimum each day.

Another way to estimate how much water you need is to take the number of calories you need in a day, say 2,000 Calories, and that is equal to the approximate amount of fluid you need in milliliters – or 2,000mL, which is 2 liters.

It goes without saying that if you are sweating more during exercise, traveling in non-humid climates like the desert, you may require additional fluid to keep you hydrated.

How Can I Tell if I’m Dehydrated?

It’s easy to judge your hydration level by observing the color of your urine – if it is very dark yellow, you need to drink more fluids. If it is light or clear, then you are most likely well-hydrated. If your mouth is dry, or if it is difficult to wet your lips, then drinking water or eating ice chips can help keep membranes moist and comfortable.

Too Much Water, Just Like Too Little Water, Can Pose a Problem

Excess water retention is called edema, and this causes puffiness, swelling, and fluid excess in the limbs, especially within extremities like hands, legs, and feet.

Edema happens when water begins leaving your bloodstream and becomes trapped within and in between tissue layers.  Normally a physician will prescribe diuretics, which will help your body filter the fluid back into the bloodstream so that your kidneys excrete extra water through urine. Decreasing your salt intake can help reduce edema.

Often, water pills—or diuretics—are prescribed for individuals with high blood pressure, because it’s more difficult for your heart to pump blood through water-logged tissues.  Sometimes fluid can gather around the heart tissue itself, a condition known as COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. This is also treated with diuretics to remove excess water that has accumulated in the protective sac surrounding the heart.

Long-term water retention can strain your heart and increase your blood pressure. Not to mention it can be somewhat uncomfortable to function with swollen limbs and hands.  It’s important to talk to your doctor if you notice swollen limbs or feet, or if you have difficulty urinating.

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