Q: I recently did blood work and my doctor told me I was dehydrated. I thought I was drinking enough water. What does this mean and how can I stay hydrated?
A: Staying hydrated is very important at any age, but especially for older adults. As we age the amount of water in our bodies naturally decreases, making a smaller amount of water loss dangerous. Older adults often experience changes in their body temperature regulation, which will make it more difficult for them to notice signs of dehydration. Dehydration can cause many physical problems, including muscle pain, fatigue, bladder infections, kidney failure and heat exhaustion. As we enter the summer months, staying hydrated will become even more important for our overall well-being.
You may feel you are drinking enough water because you are not thirsty, and your body is not feeling the effects of not drinking enough. As we age, the sensation of being thirsty diminishes because the thirst center, located in the hypothalamus part of the brain, does not get the signal that we need to drink. This is one reason so many older adults can easily become dehydrated.
Some medications may act as diuretics and cause fluid loss. Caffeinated beverages also act as diuretics and may be adding to your feeling of not being thirsty.
It is not uncommon for older adults to be in a mild state of dehydration for prolonged time periods. Over time, this will take its toll on your systems and may cause or exacerbate other health problems.
Symptoms of dehydration in older adults may not seem as obvious. They may include dry mouth, fatigue, muscle cramps, confusion, dark colored urine, or constipation.
If an older adult is having any bladder continence issues, they may restrict water intake. This is so they do not have to worry about finding a bathroom when out to reduce the risk of any accidents. This is understandable, but the risk of dehydration causing a bladder infection or kidney failure is much worse. Bladder infections in older adults can mimic dementia symptoms and may be harder to recognize as a bladder issue.
If bladder incontinence is a worry, then you may want to wear a bladder leakage pad. There are many options available that are discreet and will provide you peace of mind while allowing you to continue your active schedule. You can also plan ahead to make sure there will be bathrooms available where you are going to be
Staying well hydrated will help with your overall health, energy, digestion and mental acuity. All adults should ensure they are drinking at least 64 ounces of water a day. If you are having trouble drinking that much water, consider eating water-based fruits and vegetables like melons and oranges. You can also consider flavoring your water with fruits or powdered drink mixes that do not contain sugar or caffeine.
Since you felt you were already drinking adequate water then you will want to start tracking your consumption. On a notepad or calendar, note how many glasses of water you are drinking. Or buy a water bottle that marks the ounces for you. There are even water bottles that mark the time of day to keep you on track with your water. Always keep water with you so that you can sip and spread out the consumption throughout the day.
Be consistent for a month and notice if you feel any different. You can ask your doctor to re-do the blood work to see if it made a difference. Good hydration is a core part of staying healthy and maintaining almost every function in our bodies.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org