Dehydration in Seniors: Symptoms & How to Recover

Dehydration can negatively affect people of all ages, but seniors and children are particularly at risk. In fact, adults 65 and older have the highest rates of hospital admission for dehydration.

Mild to moderate dehydration is relatively common, especially during warm weather, and can typically be reversed by increasing your intake of fluids throughout the day, but severe dehydration must be treated immediately.

Since dehydration is dangerous to senior health, preventing, detecting, and treating the problem is important. Here are some commonly asked questions about dehydration to provide you with information for taking care of yourself or someone you love.

Do Seniors Need to Drink More Water?

As a senior, you naturally have a lower volume of water in your body, and your ability to conserve water is reduced. This means you are at greater risk of dehydration and should consistently drink water throughout the day.

Additionally, for individuals with certain chronic conditions, such as dementia or diabetes, the need to consume water is amplified. Finally, as we age, our sense of thirst becomes less acute, and mobility and memory loss issues can create further complications for older adults.

How Much Water Should Seniors Drink?

The answer to exactly how much water you should drink as an older adult varies across agencies and experts. However, the Mayo Clinic recommends a total fluid intake, which includes water and other fluids as follows:

Men: 15.5 cups (3.7 liters)
Women: 11.5 cups (2.7 liters)

You’re not alone if you’ve read that and immediately thought, “What happened to 8 glasses a day?” The Mayo Clinic also addresses this:

“That’s easy to remember, and it’s a reasonable goal. Most healthy people can stay hydrated by drinking water and other fluids whenever they feel thirsty. For some people, fewer than eight glasses a day might be enough. But other people might need more.”

For example, exercise, hot and humid weather, and your overall health or underlying health conditions may require more fluid intake to keep your body happy.

When Should I Drink All of That Water?

How much you drink is important – and so is when. It’s best practice to drink one to two glasses to start your day to activate internal organs, one glass about 30 minutes before a meal to help with digestion, one before a bath/shower, and one before bed. Also, drink water before and during exercise or a fitness class at your senior living community.

For seniors (or others) who struggle to stick to a routine or find themselves forgetting to drink water throughout the day, there are water bottle options that have timestamps on the outside of the bottles to remind you to drink your water all day long, ensuring constant hydration.

What Is an Early Sign of Dehydration in Seniors?

The easiest and earliest sign your body needs water may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easily dismissed – THIRST.

If you are feeling thirsty, your body needs water. The problem is that for many older adults, you are already dehydrated by the time you feel thirsty. Other early signs of dehydration in older adults include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Less frequent urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Dry mouth and/or skin
  • Cramping
  • Lack of sweat in hot weather

Notably, a 2019 study by the National Library of Medicine showed that commonly accepted symptoms (such as the list above) might not accurately depict Chronic Dehydration. The results of this study show that these symptoms are usually not identified, as older adults may think the symptoms they are experiencing are unrelated or part of their “new normal.” It’s important to know that if you are feeling these symptoms, it is a sign that your body is not operating at 100%.

In addition, if you are experiencing these symptoms for a prolonged period, please seek your physician’s help. 

How Do You Know if Your Senior Loved One is Chronically Dehydrated?

When chronic dehydration occurs, our body becomes less sensitive to water intake. As a result, it tries to make do with less water, and you may notice you need more fluids. Signs of chronic dehydration can include those of normal dehydration, such as muscle fatigue and dark-colored urine. Other symptoms include constipation, constant fatigue, dry or flaky skin, ongoing muscle weakness, and frequent headaches.

Chronic dehydration requires medical attention, so if you believe you or your loved one are experiencing dehydration, do not hesitate to get medical attention.

What Are the Negative Impacts of Chronic Dehydration?

Chronic or severe dehydration can lead to numerous serious health problems for older adults, including:

  • Kidney Stones
  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
  • Kidney Failure
  • Falls: Induced by symptoms such as feeling faint or fatigued
  • Seizures: As a result of electrolytes being out of balance

Another life-threatening complication of dehydration is hypovolemic shock, which occurs when low blood volumes result in a drop in blood pressure and a decrease in the amount of oxygen in your body.

Can You Be Dehydrated Even If You Drink Plenty of Water?

Generally, if you’re consuming enough fluids, you will keep your body hydrated. However, under certain circumstances, your average water intake won’t be adequate for preventing dehydration. For example, if you are ill with an infection affecting the lungs or bladder, you are more at risk for dehydration. 

Additionally, if you’re taking certain medications, like diuretics and some blood pressure medication, you tend to urinate more, expelling important fluids and electrolytes from your system faster and making you more likely to become dehydrated. Therefore, if you’re sick with the flu, fever, vomiting, or taking certain medications, you must consume more water than usual.

How Do You Help a Senior Hydrate?

The goal of hydrating an older adult is to increase the consumption of fluids. Of course, water is the main ingredient in this recipe for success, but there are other types of fluids that you can occasionally substitute for water, such as tea, fruit juice, and broth.

Another great way to supplement hydration throughout the day is to include hydrating foods in your daily diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain high water content and can help you stay hydrated. If you’re struggling to keep yourself hydrated, you can experiment with different flavors – put some lemon, cucumber, or mint into your water – and temperatures to see what is easiest and most convenient to consume regularly.

How Do You Rehydrate a Mildly Dehydrated Senior?

If symptoms feel mild (thirst, temporary fatigue), water is optimal for rehydrating the body. However, you should supplement your water intake with liquids that include electrolytes, such as a rehydration solution found at a pharmacy or grocery store, sports drinks, or juice.

However, if an older adult is feeling symptoms of dehydration after or while consuming recommended amounts of daily water intake, this could be a sign of moderate, severe, or chronic dehydration. Moderate to chronic dehydration may require medical attention from a healthcare professional, such as:

  • Sodium testing
  • Intravenous (IV) supplementation
  • Short-term dialysis for severe to chronic dehydration that has affected the kidneys

Is Gatorade OK for Seniors?

Gatorade and other sports drinks shouldn’t be your constant choice since they are high in sugar. However, they also possess electrolytes to replenish your body. Taking a few sips of Gatorade or a commercial rehydration solution can help restore those critical electrolytes more swiftly.

How Long Does It Take to Recover From Dehydration for Seniors?

The time it takes to treat dehydration in older adults depends on the severity. If you are mildly dehydrated, you often will start to feel better within 10 to 15 minutes of drinking water, a sports drink, or juice.

For moderate dehydration, you typically will be treated with intravenous hydration in urgent care or the emergency room over the course of a few hours or a day. 

Severe dehydration requires additional intervention to support your kidneys, and you may even have to undergo short-term dialysis.

Supporting Long-Term Health and Wellness for Seniors

Whether you or your loved one are in assisted living, independent living, or respite care housing, your overall health and wellness are our top priorities at Village Green Senior Living.

With its wealth of activities, amenities, and supportive services, Village Green Senior Living is a shining example of Washington senior living. We can’t wait to find the perfect place for you within our thriving community. Contact us today!

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