It’s been estimated that 20-30% of older adults are chronically dehydrated1 and many end up hospitalized for dehydration each year. Changes related to aging are responsible for this increased risk. Older bodies are not as good at detecting thirst nor are they as good at maintaining fluid balance as they once were. Combined with hot weather, this can present a dangerous situation.
To help prevent dehydration, developing lifestyle habits that encourage fluid intake can help:
- Eat more high-water content foods such as fruit and vegetables. Try to include these foods at all meals and snacks (fresh, frozen, canned are all ok).
- When the weather is hot, drink more fluids than you normally would. Carrying a water bottle with you is a good reminder to drink throughout the day.
- Sugar free fluids tend to be more hydrating than those containing lots of sugar. Plain, carbonated and sugar free flavored waters are all good options. Try making your own flavored water using diluted fruit juice (1 part juice to 4 parts water) or simply try adding fresh fruits and vegetables to your water for flavor (cucumber slices, lemon or lime wedges, berries and herbs work well).
- If you must restrict fluids due to medical issues, be sure you understand how much liquid you can safely drink. Talk to your physician.
- Increase consumption of watery foods such as soup, gelatin, milk, juice and popsicles. Caffeine containing beverages such as tea and coffee can also help meet your fluid needs as there is no consistent evidence2 that normal consumption of caffeine is dehydrating- though, in general, it’s best not to overdo it.
Learn to evaluate yourself for dehydration:
Look at your first void each morning before flushing the toilet. It should be a light yellow or pale straw color. If it is darker (like the color of beer or apple juice), it’s an indication of dehydration.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration include premature fatigue, dizziness, weakness, thirst, sunken appearing eyes, increased breathing and/or heart rate.
Dry skin and chronically chapped lips can also signal a problem. You can check your skin hydration by lightly pinching the skin on the back of your hand (this is sometimes also called “tenting”). The skin should spring back to its original position within a few seconds when you let go- if it does not, it could signal a problem. However, it should be mentioned that this test may not be as reliable in an older adult due to changes in the skin that are related to normal aging rather than hydration level.
How much should you drink daily?
The commonly quoted recommendation of “eight, 8 oz glasses a day” doesn’t fit everyone. If you want a more personalized measure, plan on drinking three 8 oz glasses of fluid for every 50 pounds of body weight daily. So, for example, if you weigh 150 lbs., you will aim for nine 8 oz glasses daily.
1 Dehydration in the Older Adult – PubMed (nih.gov)
2 Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review – PubMed (nih.gov)