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Watching for Dehydration in the Vulnerable Elderly

It’s been hot and sticky, hard to sleep and after moaning through the winter, here we are again complaining about the weather hah!

It’s not surprising if some of us get a little irritable. Not remembering to keep up our fluid intake is only going to compound this.

Drying out…

The elderly are very prone to dehydration and those with memory or mobility issues need to have this well monitored.

Why are the elderly more susceptible to dehydration?

  • Firstly, there is a natural decrease of the water contained in your body as you age.
  • Older kidneys don’t work as efficiently to retain water when needed
  • Elderly people often don’t feel thirsty and so don’t drink as often as they should
  • As you age your ability to notice changes in body temperature decreases
  • Underlying health conditions can make people less able to adapt to heat
  • Medications can make people more susceptible to dehydration
  • And of course having decreased mobility, cognitive challenges, incontinence, difficulty in swallowing and other health issues are all contributors to dehydration.

Just Add Water

Being dehydrated is very bad for all of us, but in the elderly it can become life threatening much faster and can cause other complications.

How can we prevent dehydration?

  • Make it as easy as possible for people to have a regular drink by making sure there is always liquid available.
  • Think about ways to make drinking easier, e.g. Would a straw help? Can refreshments be placed within easier access? Can you chill or warm a drink, would this make it more appealing?
  • Leave reminders around for yourself and others. This could be a note, a sign, or a visible jug or glass of water.
  • Add fruit, melon, cucumber or a splash of cordial or fruit juice to tap water to make it more appealing
  • Coconut water is another tasty alternative to tap water. You could also try diluted fruit juice or vegetable juice. Fortified fruit drinks offer hydration and extra nutrients sometimes needed.
  • Regularly offer tea, coffee or any other beverages the person enjoys. Fruit or herbal teas are another good idea, and as an alternative also taste great cold. Iced coffee is a good option in the summer.
  • Try to include water-rich food in meals, e.g. soups, stews, salads, sauces, yoghurt, cottage cheese, and fruit salads.
  • Fruit and vegetables contain water, so try to encourage these as snacks also. e.g. Oranges, apples, watermelon, grapes, berries, cucumber and tomatoes.
  • Ice cream or yoghurt are other great options on their own and can also be made into smoothies with fruit and juice. Why not try a milkshake?
  • Jelly is a fun one, this can have fruit added to it. If sugar intake is an issue you can make it with sugar-free jelly, or lower the sugar by making it yourself using gelatine powder and fruit juice, for example.
  • A lemonade or weak shandy maybe something that is appreciated on occasion. Be aware alcohol dehydrates, an alcohol-free beer may be the way to go on a hot afternoon.
  • Frozen treats, like popsicles, are popular and easy to make yourself out of all sorts of ingredients.
  • And of course blocks of ice added to a cool drink can make it more appealing. These can be made even more exciting by freezing strawberries, slices of lemon or other fruit.
  • Finally, for some just sucking on ice chips can be refreshing and this is also a good water replenishment.

It can be said that carbonated and caffeine drinks are not as hydrating as others, such as water. This may be true, but the important thing is to get people to take in the liquid. Although they may possibly be absorbing slightly less water with these drinks, the fact that they actually drink them would make up for this.

Be careful when selecting drinks for someone with diabetes or high blood sugar as a sweet drink is actually going to work against hydration for them.

Keep Your Eyes Open…

In this hot weather look for changes in behaviour that could be caused by a need for more water. And don’t forget to apply these rules to yourself.

Some of the signs of dehydration:

  • A dry and sticky mouth
  • Thirst
  • Dry Skin
  • Difficulty walking, or susceptibility to falling
  • Dizziness or headaches
  • Decreased urination
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Lack of sweating or being unable to product tears
  • Sunken eyes
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing

 

Have a look at Mindjig’s listing here on Eldernet

About Julie Bourla

Julie Bourla
Julie Bourla is a co-owner of the online store, Mindjig.co.nz. Mindjig offers gifts and activities for people living with dementia or brain injury. Her husband, Jonathan, is an activities coordinator in a secure dementia unit. Together they have been developing engaging solutions geared particuarly towards New Zealanders, to help people living with cognitive challenges and also their carers/families. With Julie’s background in graphic design & illustration and Jonathan’s in photography, they use their skills to make meaningful products with many of the activities on the site being designed and produced themselves.

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