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Dehydration occurs when there is not enough fluid in the body. It is one of the most frequent reasons for Medicare hospitalizations. Half of all patients hospitalized with dehydration as the primary diagnosis die within one year.
The ability to feel thirst lessens with age so seniors may not realize when they need to drink more. Seniors may also find they have to use the bathroom more often so they are losing more fluid.
As we age, our bodies start losing muscle and gaining fat. Muscle holds water but fat does not. Medications that increase urination or help constipation can also cause dehydration.
Signs that dehydration has already occurred include thirst, dry mouth, dark yellow urine, fatigue and irritability. Life threatening symptoms such as dizziness, feeling faint when sitting up or standing, confusion, muscle weakness or cramps, sunken eyes, low blood pressure or increased heart rate require medical intervention right away.
Throughout the day, encourage seniors to drink before they are thirsty. Keep a variety of beverages available (including those for specific diets such as diabetes), as well as foods containing water (fresh fruits, vegetables and yogurt). Do not replace water with caffeinated drinks.
Drinking frequently during the day, rather than drinking large amounts at one time, can also help. Provide seniors a water bottle or non-breakable cup that they can carry with them, and encourage them to drink from it regularly. Make sure they drink extra in extreme heat to replace the water lost from sweating. Another great habit is to start and end the day with a cup of water.