We are going to talk seriously about water and dehydration. Don’t check out. Do not move on to read something else. You must read this article. Yes, you. The woman who is 54. The man who is 72. The young adult in his or her 40s but has parents in their 60s and grandparents in their 80s. And yes, if you are the woman who is 85, but swears you get enough water to drink.
You are all going to read about the importance of staying hydrated, at any age, but especially as we get older and most specifically for the oldest old. And it goes way beyond drinking eight glasses of water a day. (No wonder my mother, husband, sister, coworkers say I’m bossy, huh?!)
Did you know that the human body is more than 60 percent water? And that we must replace 2.4 liters of water daily with both drinking water and with the foods we eat? The human body is amazing: The brain consists of 70 percent water, the lungs 90 percent water and our blood is 83 percent water.
So yes, we have all heard it over and over again, “Drink eight glasses of water every day.” We have heard it so many times that many of us just ignore it. Or we know we should try, and we do try, but we don’t really make it through three glasses of water, let alone eight. And the one thing I hear from seniors all the time is, “I spend so much time going to the restroom now, why should I drink more water? I’ll never get out of the bathroom?!”
Well, folks. Here is the non-boring, icky truth about why we need to drink water.
Our plumbing: Water keeps the urinary tract “flushed” out. “Urinary tract infections can cause confusion, increase a senior’s risk of falls and actually lead to fatalities in aging persons. An early sign of dehydration is the color of your urine. It should be clear or pale yellow. Darker urine may indicate you are not meeting your fluid needs,” as stated by Claudia C. Collins, Ph.D, in “Water: Fountain of Life – Senior Wellness Series.”
Our innards: We need plenty of water to help us digest our food and keep all of our internal organs working properly. In fact, without adequate water over time, our internal organs just won’t work. We need water to digest food, we need water to get rid of waste – we need water to poop.
Our protective layer: Taking in enough water is essential for our bodies to have good, moist skin in our nose, mouth, eyes and our overall skin. This protects us from germs and infections.
Our blood: Without taking in enough water, our bodies can’t keep an adequate level of blood in our systems. Without the right level of blood it is hard for our bodies to do some important things, like maintain blood pressure, pump enough blood to all the right organs and get nutrients where they need to be in the body, little things like that.
Why are seniors at more risk for dehydration than younger folks? The following information is taken from PRweb.com, which cites the American Journal of Nursing by Dr. Linda Honan Pellico in a June 2006 article:
“Dehydration in the elderly can lead to confusion, an increased risk for falls, organ failure and even death. In fact…about half of all patients over 65 admitted to the hospital (in the study) died within a year. Researchers attribute the prevalence of dehydration in seniors to a number of factors that converge as we age to make it difficult for our bodies to retain water properly, use it efficiently, and signal us when it needs more.
Medication: Some of the most commonly-prescribed medications for seniors, including those to treat blood pressure conditions and heart disease act as diuretics, robbing the body of needed fluids. Fading thirst: As we age, our thirst sensation literally begins to fade, making it difficult for the elderly to recognize their bodies need for water. What’s worse, seniors who have suffered the onset of neurological impairments due to Alzheimer’s disease, stroke or other conditions may simply forget to drink and/or eat. Water conservation: As we age, kidneys become less adept at filtering toxins. To compensate, they use more of the body’s water than is actually needed to make urine. To complicate matters, many people intentionally drink less fluids, in order to avoid too many trips to the bathroom if they have difficulty with mobility or if there is discomfort with the process. In extreme cases, neglectful caregivers will intentionally withhold fluids in order to reduce output in their elderly charges.
Temperature regulation: The body’s ability to regulate temperature also decreases with age, leading to increased perspiration and loss of fluids in extreme heat. And seniors on fixed income are often disproportionately affected by extreme heat, especially those who live alone (meaning they won’t turn on fans, cool showers, air conditioning if they have it, to save on money).
Disease management: In acute illnesses like colds, flu, diarrhea or pneumonia – common among patients over 65 – water intake is critical to replace lost fluids. And certain chronic diseases that are prevalent among the elderly, like diabetes, are associated with heightened bladder activity, which can lead to dangerous levels of dehydration quickly.
Seniors with congestive heart failure, kidney failure or other health problems are often placed on fluid-restricted diets and should follow their health care practitioner’s instructions regarding fluid intake. For others, however, drinking more water is a healthy recommendation.
Quick Tips For Alzheimer’s-Friendly Foods During Hot Weather
With summer here and temperatures rising, caregivers can be especially challenged in making sure that their loved ones who have dementia are getting proper nutrition and hydration.
Eating and drinking can become real problems for people with dementia especially in the middle and late stages. The person with dementia may have difficulty remembering how to use utensils, swallowing and have a poor appetite. If swallowing or choking issues are a concern, speak with your loved one’s medical professional for help with these issues and then call the Alzheimer’s Association for some additional caregiver tips.
Alzheimer’s friendly food ideas:
* Ice cream
* Frozen juice bars
* Water-rich melons and fruits
* Fruit smoothies
* Chocolate or strawberry-flavored milk
Alzheimer’s Association, Western & Central Washington State Chapter 800-84807097, www.alzwa.org