The Dangers of Dehydration for Older Adults


You may have noticed in the news this time of year record heat waves and heat indexes across the US. Extreme temperatures seem to be on the rise. When it’s so hot outside, especially in the summer, dehydration can be a risk. Staying hydrated is very important for overall health. Your body needs water to regulate temperature, maintain blood pressure and eliminate waste. Without water, our bodies can become dangerously sick. Dehydration is a dangerous condition, particularly for older adults.

Dehydration is harmful to all age groups, but it’s especially common and very serious when it happens to older adults. If you’re a senior or provide care for one, it’s important to monitor dehydration symptoms and know how to avoid it.

There are many causes for dehydration, including medication, and fluid restrictions prescribed by a health care professional or it can be a side effect of other illnesses such as vomiting or diarrhea. Diabetics often urinate frequently when their blood sugar is high. This can also lead to dehydration.

As we age, our sense of thirst can sometimes decrease or seemingly go away. This doesn’t mean we don’t need water; it means we don’t feel thirsty as often. This in turn causes us to drink less water than we need and can lead to dehydration.

Dehydration symptoms

Your body gives you important clues about whether you are getting the right amount of water. Paying attention to these signs can be the best way to tell if you or someone you care for is dehydrated. Signs of dehydration aren’t always obvious and can range from mild to severe. Symptoms can include the following:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches or dizziness
  • An inability to sweat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Muscle cramping
  • Joint Pain

Aging and Water Needs

Your personal water needs change as you grow and age. In general, your body holds less water as you get older, so you often need to drink less water in a day. At the same time, lower body stores also make it easier to become dehydrated. We all lose water naturally throughout the day through activities such as breathing and sweating, as well as through bladder and bowel movements. Older adults who are less active may lose less water throughout the day as a result.

It is common for people or their caregivers to be concerned about whether they are getting enough water, particularly as they grow older. Aiming for an exact water intake target is difficult. There are many factors that can change how much water someone needs from day to day.

You may remember the saying “drink 8 glasses of water a day.” However, there are many factors that determine how much water someone needs. And it is not one size fits all. Adequate daily water intake for a healthy person is around 13 cups for males and 9 cups for females. But as we age, this estimate gets more complicated.

Tips for staying hydrated

Most of us could do a better job of staying hydrated. There are some simple habits that can make it easier to get the right amount of water every day:

  • Keep water close: Drink when you are thirsty. But remember that thirst alone is not always the best guide, especially as you grow older. Keeping water handy can be a constant reminder to drink more water. Consider keeping water with you throughout the day and on your nightstand at night.

  • Keep track of water intake: It is easy to believe that you are drinking more water than you actually are. Consider using a sports bottle with measurements to track your daily water intake. There are some water tracking phone apps and wearable devices available as well.

  • Eat foods high in water: We get water through the foods we eat too. Some foods are packed with extra water. Melons, tree fruits, and berries all contain good amounts of water. Vegetables such as greens and celery are also great sources of water. Beverages besides water can also add to your daily water intake. But be sure to avoid replacing water with sugary drinks, such as juice and soda.

  • Avoid foods high in sodium: Salty foods cause you to urinate more often and can lead to dehydration. This can even include liquid foods like soup if it contains a lot of sodium. Many older adults cook less and eat more packaged foods and food from restaurants. These types of foods are often higher in salt content than meals that you prepare at home.

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