Senior man drinking water to prevent dehydration

Dehydration in Elderly

Elderly adults are vulnerable to dehydration because they have a lower water volume in their bodies. This means that even minor illnesses, for example, urinary tract infections or bronchitis, can cause dehydration in older adults. In this post, we discuss the signs and symptoms of dehydration in the elderly, how to prevent dehydration in elderly, causes of dehydration in elderly. In addition, we review how to prevent dehydration in elderly.


Why Hydration is Important in Elderly Adults

We become dehydrated when our body losses more fluid than we take in, which results in the body not having enough fluid to perform its normal functions.

Water is necessary for almost every bodily function, including regulating body temperature, lubricating joints, and pumping blood to your muscles.

Therefore, for those who do not get enough water, it can result in serious health consequences.

In addition, symptoms of dehydration in the elderly may not be noticed or may be attributed to other medical conditions or medication side effects. For example, fatigue, dry mouth, muscle cramps, and dizziness.

Persistent dehydration can also cause confusion, rapid heart rate, difficulty walking, or other more severe symptoms, leading to hospitalization.

We can usually reverse mild to moderate dehydration by drinking more fluids, but severe dehydration needs immediate medical treatment.

However, as we age, it could be a little more complicated to stay hydrated. Our bodies hold less water. In addition, the signs of dehydration are often milder, meaning we may not feel thirsty until we’re significantly dehydrated.





Dehydration in elderly woman in hospital bed showing signs and symptoms sick


Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration in Elderly

Some common signs and symptoms of dehydration in elderly may include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Dry Mouth
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Sunken eye
  • Less frequent or a decrease in urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Muscle cramping
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Confusion
  • Dehydration Headache


The more severe dehydration signs and symptoms require immediate medical attention. These more severe symptoms of dehydration in elderly include:

  • A fast heart rate
  • Trouble with movement or walking
  • Disorientation, irritability, or confusion
  • Fainting
  • Diarrhea or vomiting that lasts more than twenty-four hours
  • Can’t keep down fluids


If dehydration is not treated, it can lead to severe complications, such as:

  • Urinary or kidney problems, including urinary tract infections, kidney stones, as well as kidney failure
  • Muscle contractions or seizures. Because of low levels of electrolytes, including sodium and potassium, the imbalance can lead to involuntary muscle contractions or even loss of consciousness.
  • Heat injury. Heatstroke or heat exhaustion, ranging from mild heat cramps to heat exhaustion, or even worse, heatstroke can be life-threatening.
  • Low blood volume or hypovolemic shock. This is very serious and can be life-threatening. This complication occurs when a low blood volume leads to a drop in blood pressure and oxygen levels.




Sick elderly man with headache showing causes of dehydration in elderly medications next to him


Dehydration Headache

Some people get a headache or a migraine when they do not drink enough water. Although much research has not been done in this area, studies have found that people experience dehydration headaches.

Dehydration headaches may feel different to different people. For example, some say it feels like a pulsating ache on both sides of the head that hurts more when they bend down, walk around, or moved their head. Some also consider dehydration a migraine trigger.

Dehydration headaches are usually resolved after drinking some water; you may want to consider including electrolyte drinks. If that does not work, taking over-the-counter pain relievers may be helpful.


Dehydrated Skin

Dehydrated skin is a skin condition that happens when you do not have enough water in your skin. Usually, dehydrated skin looks dull and lacks elasticity. You may also notice

  • Itchiness
  • Skin dullness
  • Darker circles under your eyes

To prevent dehydrated skin, drinking plenty of fluids is a must.






causes of dehydration in elderly woman with cancer in wheelchair


Causes of Dehydration in Elderly

Older adults tend to be more vulnerable to dehydration for several reasons. Sometimes it could be simply because you are not drinking enough fluids because you are busy or sick. In addition, someones you may not have easy access to get something to drink.

Below are some common causes of dehydration in elderly adults:

  • Excessive sweating because of heat or physical activity. You lose water when you sweat, and if you do not replace those fluids, you can end up dehydrated. Exercise and hot or humid conditions may result in increased fluid loss through sweating.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea can cause loss of water and electrolytes quickly. Therefore, if you have vomiting, diarrhea, and fever, dehydration worsens.
  • Mobility problems. It might be challenging for older adults to move around, so getting something to drink can be difficult. In addition, they may not try as often.
  • A decline in total body fluid. As we age, the quantity of fluid in our bodies begins to decrease. Consequently, there are a lot fewer water reserves available for your body to use as you become older.
  • Lowered thirst response. Feeling thirsty is your body’s way of letting you know you want to water. Nevertheless, because the thirst response becomes weaker with age, older adults might not realize they have to drink.
  • Underlying health conditions. Some underlying health conditions, like diabetes or kidney disease, can cause increased urination. Therefore, you lose much more fluid than normal.
  • A side effect of certain prescription drugs may be increased urination. This may lead to extra fluid loss. Some examples of prescription medication that could trigger increased urination include diuretics and certain blood pressure medications.




Prevent dehydration in elderly caregiver giving senior water glass


How to Prevent Dehydration in Elderly

Drink plenty of fluids every day and eat foods high in water content. For example, fruits and vegetables. Increase your fluid intake if you are experiencing:

  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Strenuous exercises
  • Hot or cold weather
  • Illness, even minor illnesses like the flu, bladder infections, or bronchitis.
  • Medical conditions or taking medications. Talk to your doctor about how much fluids you should drink, especially if you have underlying medical conditions or are taking medications.

Sufficient Fluid Intake

If you have symptoms of dehydration, you need to replace lost fluids. This means drinking water, juices, or other fluids like broth.

Diarrhea and vomiting may lead to loss of electrolytes. In these circumstances, it may be helpful to drink fluids with electrolytes. For example, sports drinks or Pedialyte.

In cases of severe dehydration, fluids and electrolytes may be given intravenously in a hospital.

Getting sufficient water each day is essential for your overall health. Regular water intake can prevent dehydration, a condition that can cause unclear thinking, result in mood change, cause your body to overheat, and lead to constipation and kidney stones.


Drinking water will help your body:

  • Keep a regular temperature
  • Lubricate and cushion joints
  • Protect your spinal cord along with other vulnerable tissues
  • Get rid of wastes through urination, bowel, and perspiration movements.


Your body requires more water if you are:

  • In hot climates
  • When you are physically active
  • Running a fever
  • Having diarrhea or vomiting




rows of water bottles



How Much Water Should You Drink Every Day?

The ‘eight glasses of water a day’ rule is a general recommendation and became popular because it is easy for most people to remember.  Some people need more, and some may be able to tolerate less.

We all need different amounts of water to stay hydrated. Factors that contribute to how much water your body needs include your body weight, how physically active you are, and how warm the weather is.

It is a good idea to consult with your doctor about how much water you should drink in a day because there are varying general recommendations and is dependent on many factors.


Some recommendations for the amount of daily water intake include:

  • The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is:
    • About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men
    • About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women
  • The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends the following amounts for daily fluid intake:
    • At least 101 ounces, which is a little less than 13 cups for men
    • At least 73 ounces, which is a little over 9 cups, for women


Fluids Other Than Water

You can drink more than just plain water to keep hydrated. Other fluids, such as herbal tea, fruit juice, and broth, also contain water.

Talk to your health care provider about the amount and types of fluids that are recommended. There might be restrictions based on medical conditions. For example, you do not want to give a diabetic some sugary drinks or high sodium broth to someone with high blood pressure. In addition, people on dialysis or those with congestive heart failure may have specific fluid restrictions.



Tips to Stay Hydrated

Below are tips on how to stay hydrated:

  • Try drinking water throughout the day. Set small goals throughout the day. Also, keep track of fluid intake, so you know how much fluids you are drinking each day. Fluids that help keep you hydrated include milk, sparkling water, flavored water, and fruit juices low in sugar. Limit your intake of coffee and tea because they can have a diuretic effect.
  • If drinking large amounts of fluid at once is challenging, try taking frequent small sips instead. Also, if possible, some say using a straw helps them drink more volume.
  • Including foods with high water content can help you stay hydrated—for example, watermelon, strawberries, celery, cucumber, and low sodium broths or soups.
  • If you do not find water very appealing, consider adding a slice of orange, lemon, or lime to add flavor.
  • Increase your water intake on days you will be sweating more. For example, if you will be physically active or outside in hot or humid weather.
  • Be extra careful and increase your fluid intake if you have diarrhea or vomiting.


Ask your doctor how much fluid you should consume in a day, especially if you have underlying medical conditions.

  • Caregivers should encourage older adults to drink fluids throughout the day. If dehydration is a concern, ask them to write down the volume of fluids consumed every day.
  • Keep water or fluids in locations where it is easy and accessible to reach. Often, making it effortless for seniors to serve themselves could motivate them to consume more water. Try keeping a lightweight pitcher of water along with a cup near their favorite seat, making it convenient and quick to have a drink.
  • Ensure the older adult has easy bathroom access, so they are not afraid of making it to the toilet in time.
  • Make fluids more appealing, so the elderly will consume more.
    • Provide a variety of fluids, including regular water, flavored water, sparkling water, and herbal teas. You might also try getting them to drink smoothies, Ensure, milkshakes, or sports drinks.
    • Drinks with essential nutrients. Low fat or fat-free milk, fortified milk alternatives such as almond, cashew, or soy milk, or 100% fruit or vegetable juice contain essential nutrients like calcium, potassium, or vitamin D.
    • Experiment with beverages at different temperatures. Your senior may prefer iced tea instead of hot tea; ask for their preference.
    • Try something savory. Some may prefer hot, low sodium soup broth rather than drinking a cold beverage.
    • Make homemade popsicles. Popsicles can be made from a mix of fruit juice and water and are a good treat as well as a fantastic way to get a lot more fluids into your older adult.


How to Know if you are Hydrated

The simplest way to determine if you are drinking plenty of fluid is usually to check out the color of your urine. When you are drinking plenty of water, your urine should be pale or clear yellow. A darker yellow actually means you are not drinking enough water.



Older adults tend to be more vulnerable to dehydration, so understanding causes of dehydration in elderly will help prevention. Not only do they have a lower fluid volume in their body, but they also have a decreased thirst response and may be on medications or have medical conditions that increase the risk of dehydration.

Encouraging fluid intake and recognizing the signs and symptoms of dehydration in elderly is crucial. Watch for symptoms of dehydration, such as dry mouth, dark-colored urine, fatigue, and lightheadedness.

Treating dehydration involves increasing fluid intake so that you can replace lost fluids.  To prevent dehydration in elderly, encourage fluids and foods with high water content throughout the day. If you do not know how much water your body requires, ask your physician how much fluid you should consume every day.






Dehydration, Mayo Clinic.

As You Get Older, You Need to Drink More Water. Here’s Why

Water: How much should you drink every day? – Mayo Clinic.

Water and Healthier Drinks | Healthy Weight, Nutrition …

How Much Water You Need to Drink, Healthline.

Dry Skin vs. Dehydrated: How to Tell the Difference – and Why it Matters, Healthline.

Recognizing a Dehydration Headache, Healthline.

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