It’s hard to imagine taking on the summer heat without ice-cold water in hand. When we finish errands, yard-work, or exercise, thirst compels us to rehydrate and we start sipping.
However, as we age, the feeling of “thirst” diminishes, and the need to replenish may go unnoticed. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why this occurs, but doctors and healthcare staff are all too familiar with the result – dehydration – a common, and sometimes chronic problem among older adults.
While decreased fluid intake is the most well-known cause of dehydration, excessive sweating, diarrhea, pressure injuries, disease and medications can also play a role…making elderly and long term care residents a high-risk population.
As dehydration can have serious consequences, it’s very important for all caregivers and healthcare staff to recognize the warning signs and help elderly residents avoid dehydration.
Signs of Dehydration in Elderly Residents
- Shaking or convulsions
- Muscle cramping
- Dry mouth or tongue
- Decreased urine output
- Concentrated urine
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heart beat
- Sunken eyes
Caregivers and facilities should be both practical and creative when trying to prevent dehydration among residents.
If possible, leave a water pitcher and cups at residents’ bedsides; and have nursing provide extra fluid at med pass and with a shift change. Staff should discourage alcohol and excessive coffee, tea and soda intake, four different beverages that can actually cause the body to excrete fluid…leading to dehydration.
If a resident dislikes flat water, try serving infused water, sugar-free flavored water, seltzer water, herbal tea, and broth. In addition, activities and food service can work together to schedule a build-your-own popsicle, smoothie, or milkshake event. Add high-water content fruit and vegetables like berries, melon and tomatoes should to menus or snack carts.
Lastly, constantly remind elderly residents and others at risk for dehydration to sip on fluid throughout the day…if they wait until they’re thirsty, they may have difficulty taking in enough to properly rehydrate.