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Keeping Cool: Harms of Elderly Dehydration

Written by:

Jeffrey Grossman


July 11, 2019

As summer quickly approaches and temperatures heat up, hydration plays a big role in our health and well-being. Outdoor activities make it easy to forget to regularly hydrate, which can be detrimental. For the elderly population, staying hydrated is increasingly vital.

As a caregiver, being aware of elderly dehydration is helpful to know to provide holistic care. Dehydration negatively affects everyone’s health, causing both short and long term deficiencies. Home companionship services can help avoid elderly dehydration, but it is important to know the facts.

The Bodily Breakdown of Elderly Dehydration

We have all heard it before, thirst is the first sign that the body is already dehydrated. Unfortunately, an elderly person’s body is slower to recognize dehydration, thus, they do not feel thirsty as quickly. In turn, the elderly do not drink necessary amounts of water, significantly increasing the chance of dehydration.

The increased risk of dehydration in the elderly results from their body’s lack of fluid retention, making hydration a daily essential. As we age, our bodies lose water, which is not easily replaced. According to, 52-60% of our bodies are made up of fluids until the age of 60. Once we reach 60 years old, our body’s fluid levels drop down to 46-52%. A loss of muscle mass and an increase in fat cells can be blamed for the fluid loss.

Some Causes of Elderly Dehydration

  1. Illness/Medical Conditions: Vomiting and diarrhea can quickly cause someone to become dehydrated. Common medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s, or someone who has trouble physically moving, can lead to a lack of drinking enough fluids.
  2. Medications: The elderly are typically prescribed a number of different medications to be taken at one time. Some of the medication’s side effects can cause dehydration, especially diuretics, due to an increase in sweat.

Short and Long Term Dangers of Elderly Dehydration

Young or old, dehydration can be very harmful to the body. Some of the problems we see in the elderly population are:

  1. Increased Confusion: Someone may start to show signs of confusion if they are dehydrated. If the elderly individual has Alzheimer’s/Dementia, the confusion may rapidly increase. Symptoms may also show up in the form of headaches, tiredness, moodiness, and inability to comprehend. Over time, dehydration can cause trouble with memory processing and cognitive impairment, leading to a lower quality of life.
  2. Anxiety/Depression: Mental illnesses, in and of themselves, have many negative side effects on the brain, let alone the body. Elderly people who suffer from dehydration can experience an onset of anxiety and depression. Mood swings and isolation are commonly followed by anxiety and depression.
  3. Low Energy Levels: When an elderly person is not hydrating properly, they may notice a loss of energy. In turn, they are not able to get up as much, leading to a loss of muscle. Elderly people have an increased risk of falling when they are not physically active or working out their muscles. The long term effects of low energy and activity levels can increase the elderly’s proneness to being bed bound.
  4. Urinary Tract Infections (UTI): Anyone who is not drinking enough fluids increases their chance of developing a Urinary Tract Infection. UTI’s can lead to kidney and bladder infections because there is not enough fluid to flush out bad bacteria.
  5. Kidney Failure: Kidneys need water to actively remove toxins from the blood and cleanse our systems. Without staying properly hydrated, the kidneys begin shutting down. Dehydration prevents our kidneys from working effectively to deliver essential nutrients throughout the bloodstream. Some signs include concentrated urine and kidney stones.
  6. Comatose/Death: In severe cases, dehydration can be fatal to the body. We can only survive 3-4 days without water, but our bodies are actively losing hydration every minute. Dehydration can result in an elderly person slipping into a coma, and possibly dying, without active treatment and fluid intake.

How Can Home Care Help Keep Your Loved One Healthy and Hydrated?

Since elderly individuals do not feel thirsty as quickly, having a professional, trained caregiver is vital to their health and well-being. Getting enough fluids every day may seem like a simple task, but not everyone thinks about the repercussions of dehydration.

Home companionship services, through home care, can help with meal preparation, monitoring medications, and fluid intake. The services provided by a caregiver ensure your loved one is staying healthy and hydrated daily. For more information on how Commonwise can help with home companionship services, call 434.202.8565.