Causes and Symptoms of Dehydration in Older Adults

Aging is linked to a variety of changes in the body. Some of these changes can make seniors prone to nutrient deficiencies, while others can affect your senses and quality of life. One common issue people may experience as they age is a reduction in their body’s ability to recognize vital senses like hunger and thirst. This could make you prone to dehydration and unintentional weight loss. And the older you get, the harsher these consequences may be.

Other examples are:

  • Muscle loss, thinner skin
  • Studies have estimated that 20% of elderly people have atrophic gastritis, a condition in which chronic inflammation has damaged the cells that produce stomach acid.
  • Low stomach acid can affect the absorption of nutrients, such as vitamin B12, calcium, iron and magnesium.
  • Another challenge of aging is a reduced need for calories. Unfortunately, this creates a nutritional dilemma. Older adults need to get just as much, if not more, of some nutrients, all while eating fewer calories. Fortunately, eating a variety of whole foods and taking a supplement can help you meet your nutrient needs.

Elderly Are More Prone to Dehydration

Water makes up about 60% of your body. It’s important to stay hydrated at any age, since your body constantly loses water, mainly through sweat and urine.

Additionally, aging can make you prone to dehydration. Your body detects thirst through receptors found in the brain and throughout the body. However, as you age, these receptors may become less sensitive to water changes, making it harder for them to detect thirst. Additionally, your kidneys help your body conserve water, but they tend to lose function as you age.

Unfortunately, dehydration comes with harsh consequences for older people.

Long-term dehydration can reduce the fluid in your cells, reducing your ability to absorb medicine, worsening medical conditions and increasing fatigue. That’s why it’s important to make a conscious effort to drink enough water daily. If you find drinking water a challenge, try having one to two glasses of water with each meal. Otherwise, try carrying a water bottle as you go about your day.

Is an electrolyte drink right for Seniors?

Sports drinks and other types of electrolyte beverages are frequently marketed to the general public, but they’re probably not necessary for most people. In fact, regular intake of some high-calorie, high-sugar electrolyte drinks could make it more difficult for you to reach your health goals, especially if they’re not being used for their intended purpose.

Most healthy, moderately active people can stay hydrated and obtain adequate amounts of electrolytes by eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet and drinking plenty of water.

Fluid needs can vary by individual, but it’s generally recommended to consume at least 68–101 ounces (2–3 liters) of fluid per day from a combination of food and beverages. That said, there are specific instances when you may be at a greater risk of becoming dehydrated, and plain food and water just won’t cut it. If you’re engaging in continuous, vigorous physical activity for longer than 60 minutes, spending extended periods in a very hot environment, or experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, an electrolyte drink may be necessary.

If you’re not sure whether you’re hydrating properly, watch for these signs of mild to moderate dehydration:

  • dry mouth and tongue
  • thirst
  • lethargy
  • dry skin
  • muscle weakness
  • dizziness
  • dark urine

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and consuming adequate fluids, it may be time to incorporate an electrolyte beverage into your routine. If these symptoms worsen, consult your healthcare provider.

Most people can maintain fluid and electrolyte balance from water and a balanced diet alone. Still, if you’re engaging in prolonged, intense physical activity or experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, an electrolyte drink may be warranted.

Electrolytes are minerals that help your body carry out a variety of vital functions, such as hydration, muscle contractions, pH balance, and nerve signaling. To function properly, your body must maintain adequate levels of fluid and electrolytes at all times. Beverages like coconut water, milk, fruit juice, and sports drinks can all contribute to hydration and electrolyte balance.

For most people, a balanced diet and adequate water intake is enough to maintain electrolyte levels. However, some instances may warrant the use of electrolyte drinks, particularly if you’re experiencing rapid fluid losses due to sweating or illness. Drinking plenty of water and watching for early signs of dehydration can help you determine whether adding an electrolyte beverage to your routine is right for you.

Other Nutrients That May Help You as You Age

There are several other nutrients may benefit you as you age, including Potassium, Omega-3 fatty acids, Magnesium, Iron and more.

A higher potassium intake is associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones, osteoporosis and heart disease, all of which are more common among the elderly. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among the elderly. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can lower heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and triglycerides. Magnesium is an important mineral in the body. Unfortunately, elderly people are at risk of deficiency because of poor intake, medication use and age-related changes in gut function. Iron deficiency is common in elderly people. This may cause anemia, a condition in which the blood does not supply enough oxygen to the body.

Most of these nutrients can be obtained from a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats.