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Preventing Dehydration in the Elderly

If you are a caregiver for an older adult, you probably know that preventing dehydration in the elderly can be a major challenge. Several factors contribute to why older adults may become dehydrated. For example: thirst sense becomes less acute, the body’s ability to conserve water diminishes, certain medications (such as diuretics) contribute to water loss, and as we age, we tend to eat and drink less. [1]

What can caregivers or healthcare workers do to help prevent dehydration in our aging family or patients? The answers to this question may seem like common sense, but when we are overwhelmed with caring for an aging family member or busy with our case-load of patients, we may overlook these simple but important steps to preventing dehydration.

First: Take time to really listen to your elderly family member or patient. Find out what she likes to drink, how often she eats meals, when she takes medications. This information can give clues to ways you might help her stay hydrated. With these things in mind, consider the following suggestions.

Keep water within reach – in a pitcher or drink-cup – whichever works best for your patient or family member.

water glass.lemonIf plain water is not palatable to the patient, consider adding small amounts of flavoring, such as lemon juice, honey or sugar free sweetener like Crystal Light. Even small amounts of flavoring can encourage more water intake in some patients.

Offer verbal prompts throughout the day. Some older adults don’t remember to drink due to cognitive impairment and since thirst is less acute, they really may not think about drinking. You can help remind them.

Allow adequate time at meals to eat and drink. An older adult may take longer to consume his meal. If we rush him, we miss this natural opportunity to increase fluid intake. (Remember: many foods contain water, so encourage eating as well as drinking.)

Encourage taking medications with plenty of water. Some studies have shown that people who take medications, drink significantly more water than their cohorts who do not take medications. [2] This is an ideal way to provide small but potentially significant amounts of fluid. Especially if your patient takes medications more than once during the day.

Talk together about the importance of preventing dehydration. Many older adults are interested and involved in their own health management. For these people, education may be all that is needed to prevent dehydration. 

We’d love to hear about your experiences with helping older adults avoid dehydration. You can share in the comment section below.



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