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dehydration in elderly and its causes, symptoms, treatment and types
By
Sonam Medha

 

 

In day-today’s world everyone is concerned about various health related issues such as skin problems, hair problems, lack of care etc, but we often ignore the root cause of all these problems. When we increase our range of vision we can narrow it down to DEHYDRATION. 

 

Dehydration is defined as the deprivation of fluids inside our body especially water. It happens when the amount of fluid leaving the body exceeds from the amount of fluid (mainly water) consumed by the body. 

 

In this article we will be discussing about various causes of dehydration, consequences of dehydration, symptoms of dehydration in elderly, how to prevent dehydration in elderly and many more. Not only in young or adults but most importantly dehydration in elderly. 

 

To know the actual meaning of dehydration we must first understand the meaning of “Hydration”. 

 

About 60% of our body comprises of water. Hence making it crucial for proper functioning and maintenance of the body. Different functions in the body are carried out by different organs and they cannot work without adequate level of water in the body.  

 

Not only this water performs different important function in our body too, few them are listed below: 

  • It helps to remove toxic substances from the body
  • Helps to maintain a normal body temperature
  • Plays an important role in lubrication of joints

 

Understanding the meaning of term “Dehydration”

In simple words dehydration refers to decreased level of body fluids especially water. Human body is made up of about 60%of water, thus a gradual decline in this water level may cause several abnormalities in terms of functioning of the body. Dehydration is often regarded as an unseen risk but if it is not seen as an issue of concern it might turn out to be dangerous. 

 

Does it happen to a particular age group?

Well in the case of dehydration the answer is NO. It is not age specific it can happen to anyone from a young adult to extremely aged. Though the adversities of effects it may have on them are different. Dehydration might not be of that much concern in adolescence but in elderly, it is of great concern. It might show less complex consequences on young people but on the other hand it is severe dehydration in elderly and might be fatal. 

 

Dehydration In elderly

Dehydration is an issue of overall concern, but the consequences which are observed in aged people make it severe dehydration in elderly. We might not think twice to grab a cold drink from the fridge on a hot summer day, we do it as an instinct but the same does not go for the elderly. They often don’t take adequate amount of fluids or water, and this problem is constantly overlooked thus creating lot of health problems. 

 

Types of dehydration

There are broadly 3 types of dehydration: 

 

Isotonic-

It is characterised by equal loss of water and sodium ions from the body. 

 

Hypotonic-

It is characterised by the loss of more sodium salt as compared to water from the body. 

 

Hypertonic-

It is characterised by the loss of more water from the body as compared to sodium salts. 

 

Causes of dehydration in elderly

Though dehydration has various causes but the most common causes found in elderly are: 

 

Illness

Getting frequently sick might be an indication of inadequate water consumption this leading to dehydration. 

  • Long duration heat exposure
  • Health conditions- several health conditions such as diabetes might lead to loss of body fluids.
  • Prescribed medications: sometimes the prescribes medicines lead to more loss in body fluids than normal. (Example- Diuretics)

 

Symptoms we should look out for in elderly people for dehydration

There might be so many symptoms in elderly, few of them are listed below: 

 

Dry mouth –

characterised by often drying of mouth while having conversation. 

 

Fatigue –

characterised by getting tired too often. 

 

Sunken eyes –

It is an easily observable sign of dehydration. 

 

Colour of urine –

People suffering from dehydration have dark coloured urine. 

 

Cramps –

Muscle cramps are easily observed among people suffering from dehydration. 

 

Dizziness –

A feeling of light-headedness is observed in it. 

 

Having urge to urinate very often –

It leads to loss of body fluids in a very rapid way. 

 

These were some basic symptoms which we have to look out for dehydration in elderly people, but there might be some chronic dehydration symptoms in elderly too, few of them are discussed below: 

  • Increased heart rate – this might be fatal if not treated
  • Decreased pulse rate
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Regular mood changes
  • Concentrated urine (dark coloured)

 

Now the question arises, how can we know or how do we assess dehydration in elderly  

 

There are a number of ways to look out for dehydration assessment in elderly, but the few very crucial and easily identified ones are listed below: 

 

Look out for blood pressure -

If the blood pressure is low, it might be an indication for dehydration. 

 

Monitor the colour of urine-

If the colour of urine is dark that means the urine is concentrated and that might be an early indication of dehydration.  

 

Monitor the pulse rate regularly –

A variation in pulse rate might be an indicator for dehydration in elderly, if not so then also it might be due to some health issue thus making it a crucial factor to look for. 

 

Can dehydration cause death in elderly people?

If the dehydration is detected in an early stage, it might be cured and things can be reversed back to normal again, but if it is overlooked it might turn into worst nightmare and might lead to death. We should not overlook the signs of dehydration or take it causally it is a matter of serious concern. Thus, dehydration can cause death in elderly. 

 

Can dehydration cause hallucination in elderly people?

As discussed earlier, it is a problem of immediate and serious concern. If overlooked it gives us signals that something is wrong with the body in the form of chronic symptoms and light headedness along with hallucinations are one of them. it should not be taken lightly. Thus, dehydration cause hallucination in elderly. 

 

Are diabetes and dehydration interlinked in elderly?

Yes, they are related in a way. When dehydration symptoms are overlooked again and again and not cured, it might lead to diabetes. Because in dehydration, the body tries to minimise the fluid loss thus increasing the blood sugar level to alarming heights which in return can cause diabetes. Thus, diabetes and dehydration in elderly people are interlinked. 

 

Can constipation be somehow related to dehydration in elderly?

Yes, dehydration and constipation in elderly are related. During dehydration, our body tries to minimise the water loss. To do so, the water from the food consumed is absorbed by the large intestine, thus making it hard stools, which is not easy to pass and hence leads to constipation. 

 

Prevention of dehydration in elderly people?

Prevention of dehydration in elderly people, it is not as easy as it may sound. There are so many challenges that one has to face in this. The biggest of them all is the physiological change in the elderly due to this problem such as “loss of taste & smell” may arise. Other problems such as loss of thirst sensation, which make this situation even worse. 

 

The best way to prevent it in elderly is to closely monitor them and plan a schedule for them about when to take fluids. 

 

How can we keep ourselves hydrated?

There are so many options out there for us to stay hydrated, but every liquid doesn’t count. Water act as the best source of hydration, but for some it’s just ordinary water. It might be boring and tasteless to them. Thus, by adding flavor to water not only boosts up its taste but it also enhances our urge to drink it.  

 

Some flavors which we can add to water are listed below: 

  • Sweeteners
  • Fruits
  • Herbs

 

There are other hydrating agents available to us as well, few them are:

  • Milk
  • Milk shakes
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Energy Drinks

 

Treatment for dehydration in the elderly people?

The most common way to treat dehydration in elderly people is to gradually increase the body fluids in-take. 

 

You can remind them at regular interval to have something to drink or they can also use mobile based applications which sets an alarm and you may be reminded to drink water. 

 

Is there any particular blood test for dehydration in elderly?

Blood test is an effective method to check whether the individual is suffering from dehydration or not. In case of elderly, blood test can be done and the levels of electrolytes mainly sodium & potassium will give us a clue about the situation. 

 

The use of IV fluids for dehydration in elderly

If dehydration is overlooked for a long duration and situation becomes worse, then a time may come where it will be difficult for the patient to consume fluids or food orally. In this type of situation, help of iv(intravenous) fluids are taken where the fluids can be directly injected into the body of the patient to meet the adequate need of fluids by the body. 

 

Nursing interventions for dehydration in elderly

The nursing interventions may include a dozen of things, few of them are listed below: 

  • Check out for the vital signs regularly.
  • Monitor the capillary refill thoroughly along with mucous membrane.
  • Discuss the techniques how not to vomit with the patient.
  • Schedule a proper plan to increase the fluid intake of the person.
  • Monitor the pulse rate along with BP on regular basis.
  • Use of potassium and sodium supplements might be beneficial for the patient.

 

How much fluid is needed by an elderly person in a day?

The amount of fluid need by an elderly adult might be around 8 glasses a day, though there isn’t a specific number on how much fluid in take a person may have in a day. The fluid intake varies from person to person and it depends on various factors such as body structure, the extent of physical activity, the environment that person may be living in. 

 

Why are the aged people at a greater risk of having this health-related issue?

When we age, our body age along with us. Ageing in terms of body refers to all the physiological changes it has undergone over time. Due to these physiological changes, the aged people are at a greater risk of having this disease. 

 

What are the physiological changes which may result in dehydration in elderly?

Though there are many physiological changes which may lead to dehydration, few of them are discussed below:

 

Reduction of thirst sensation –

 

Due to this the intake of fluids gradually declines. 

 

Loss of muscle mass-

Due to this the water retention quality of body declines over time. 

 

Mobility –

old-age is linked with many joint related issues, due to weakened joints, it becomes difficult for a person to go and have something to drink on his own thus reducing the fluid in-take of the body. 

 

Old age is also linked with gradual loss of taste and smell with time – due to this factor the elderly people often loose interest in consuming food or fluids thus again resulting overall decline of fluid levels. 

 

Conclusion

Elderly people are like small children in disguise. They may not be able to express themselves properly, which we often fail too. But it’s our basic duty to understand them at the hour of need. Various health related issues such as dehydration can be cured easily if we understand their need to consume fluids at regular intervals. And if on the other hand we keep on neglecting the signs their body is showing us in the form of symptoms, soon an issue which is easily curable might take shape of a fatal disease. 

 

Thus, life is like a game, all it needs is teamwork, if we all are together we can win it. It’s us who needs to understand them at every stage possible, we have to be there for them like they were for us when we were little. 

 

Feel free to contact us at eldersfirst@emoha.com or call us at 1800-123-445555

 

 

 

 

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