Seniors Should Drink More Water for Better Health: It Matters More Than You Think

seniors and water

Are you thirsty right now? If you are, go get a glass of water. We’ll wait…

If you’re thirsty, chances are you’re already dehydrated. The need for more water can creep up on you, especially if you’re a senior or elderly adult. One reason for this is because as you get older, your sense of thirst diminishes to a point where you might feel as though you’re perfectly fine, but inside, your organs are crying out for hydration. This kind of dehydration is dangerous and is actually a common cause of hospitalization among the elderly[1].

What is Dehydration?

Dehydration is defined by the Mayo Clinic as something that occurs when “you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn't have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. If you don't replace lost fluids, you will get dehydrated.”

Dehydration is most common and more dangerous among the very young and the very old. For the youngest among us, dehydration can often be traced back to diarrhea, vomiting, or other illnesses that keep the body from absorbing enough water. For older adults, however, there are different causes.

That’s because as we age, our body’s relationship to water changes too. Older adults naturally have less water volume in their bodies. That means that it can be quite easy to allow our body’s water level to drop very quickly. In addition, you might take medications that increase the risk of dehydration, or suffer from illnesses that make dehydration more likely. Add in that our sense of thirst diminishes as we age and suddenly, you have a perfect storm of issues that could lead to dehydration, and that can lead to serious problems.

According to the American Journal of Nursing, dehydration for senior adults can often occur not only because of the usual factors such as vomiting or diarrhea, but also because of a variety of problems unique to the elderly. For instance, lengthy fasts before certain procedures can increase the risk of dehydration. No matter the reason for it, dehydration can lead to higher rates of constipation and laxative use, a higher likelihood of falls, and poorer rehabilitation outcomes. Those who drink two glasses or fewer of water each day are at higher risk of fatal coronary heart disease.

Since falls are more likely when you are dehydrated, and the potential outcomes of rehabilitation afterward are much poorer, it’s more important than ever to be wearing medical alert technology. An Alert1 Medical Alert purchased today can help give you peace of mind tomorrow. And the more good things you do for yourself right now, the more likely you are to keep up that habit – sort of like getting into the habit of drinking plenty of water!

Other negative outcomes of not enough water include infections, delirium, renal failure, seizures, and hyperthermia, among others[2]. It’s safe to say that dehydration is a dangerous state that needs to be remedied as soon as possible, but the best option is to avoid dehydration from happening in the first place.

How Do I Know I’m Dehydrated?

Dehydration can often be tough to spot at first. That’s because the most common symptoms of it mimic the symptoms of many other conditions, or can be attributed to medications. The symptoms of dehydration include[3]:

·         Fatigue

·         Dizziness

·         Dry mouth

·         Muscle cramps

·         Extreme thirst

·         Less frequent urination

·         Urine that is dark in color

·         Confusion

The longer you are dehydrated, the more problems can occur. Rapid heart rate and difficulty walking are two of the more advanced symptoms. Irritability, low blood pressure, rapid breathing, a weak pulse, and cold hands and feet are also some of the more severe signs[4]. As the lack of water gets worse, you might start to suffer the most dangerous problems, such as organ failure or coma.

Some seniors are much more susceptible to problems with dehydration. This can include those who have dementia, as they can simply forget to drink, even if they are thirsty[5]. Those with difficulty swallowing might avoid fluids. Those who are on certain drugs, like diuretics or laxatives, might have more frequent urination that depletes their body’s store of electrolytes. And those who suffer from incontinence might deliberately avoid fluids for the fear of having bathroom accidents[6].

How Much Water Do You Really Need?

Water is a requirement for all bodily functions, even those you don’t think it would have any bearing on. For instance, water helps regulate your body temperature. It helps your heart pump blood to your muscles. It helps lubricate the joints and keep the blood vessels healthy. Without water, your body struggles to perform almost every function, from moving to thinking.

Therefore, to make sure your body and mind are working at tip-top shape, you must make sure you have enough water to allow it to do so. That means getting the recommended amount every single day, without fail. But what is the recommended amount?

The rule of thumb is eight glasses of water each day. But what does that really mean, and is that actually how much you need?

The idea of “eight 8-ounce glasses” became the recommendation because it’s so easy to remember. But some people need less, especially if they are drinking other beverages during the day. And some need more, especially if they are on medications that can cause dehydration or spend time out in the summer heat. And on some days, you might need even more, such as those days when you are walking or exercising a great deal. The best way to know for sure how much you need is to keep drinking until your urine is clear or almost clear – that’s when you know you’ve hit the hydration sweet spot.

How to Make Water More Enjoyable

Let’s be honest, for many people, drinking plain water is pretty boring. And for some, it might actually be a challenge, as not all water tastes the same. How it tastes depends upon your pipes, the temperature of the water, whether or not it’s filtered, or if you’re using bottled water, one brand might taste slightly different than another. But there are ways to make water more palatable, especially to those who have trouble with drinking straight tap water.

·         Infuse the water with fruit. A squeeze of lemon, lime, or orange can make water taste much better. You can infuse it with an even stronger flavor with an infusion pitcher. Simply add fresh fruit to the central infuser and enjoy flavored water all day. For an even better taste and colder water, try adding frozen fruit to the infuser.

·         Keep it very cold. Water that is icy cold can taste much better than tepid water. Fill a glass to the top with ice and top it with water, then sip on it throughout the day until the ice is gone. Refill and repeat.

·         Put it in an attractive vessel. It can be much easier to get the water you need if drinking it seems luxurious. Choose a cup, mug, or tall glass that suits your style and carry that around the house with you. For those with vision impairment, a brightly-colored cup is a good idea; for those with arthritis, consider a cup with a lid or handles to make it easier to use.

·         Sip if needed. Sometimes it’s hard to drink a full eight ounces of water in one sitting. Sipping throughout the day may be easier to tolerate.

·         Drink at specific times. Make a point of drinking water before, during, and after exercise. Drinking with meals is also helpful. Depending upon your medication and any medical conditions, perhaps several sips of water first thing in the morning would work for you.

·         Set a timer. If all else fails, WebMD suggests setting a timer to remind you to drink more water. Perhaps set a timer on your phone or watch for every 15 minutes and take at least one sip when that timer goes off.

Small changes in your mindset can also help ensure that you get the water you need. Remind yourself that staying well-hydrated and keeping your electrolyte balance healthy can result in fewer medical problems, including fewer falls. You may want to keep a medical alert watch or pendant handy, for any times when you might need to get help fast. Consider water as your insurance against falls, delirium, and other issues that could possibly result in hospitalization.

Sources of Water that Aren’t from the Tap

Drinking a glass of water is always a great way to hydrate, but there are other ways to get the water you need. You can drink a variety of fluids, including fruit juices or sports drinks that provide electrolytes, although you will want to be careful about their possibly high sugar content. You can also get a surprising amount of hydration from some foods that are mostly water, such as watermelon and similar fruits.

When adding juice into your diet, sugar content may pose an issue. Unless you are specifically trying to gain weight or are on a diet that calls for a higher sugar content, consider diluting fruit juice with water until it gets to a flavor you enjoy. Though it might be tempting to fulfill your water needs with coffee or tea, keep in mind that caffeinated drinks can have a diuretic effect that will dehydrate you even further if that’s what you drink the majority of the time. To ensure that doesn’t happen, try to alternate a cup of coffee or tea with a glass of water.

You can also try going the more savory route. Broth of all kinds can be a nice alternative to water. Experiment with temperatures of broth, as well as types, such as vegetable, beef, or chicken. Bone broth is a hearty and delicious option. If you are on a low-sodium diet, make sure to purchase broth that has no added salt.

If savory doesn’t work well for you, go the sweet route if your health allows. Popsicles, fruit pops, and many other frozen liquids straight from the freezer can be a treat that gets you some extra water. Just beware of the extra calories and make sure these treats fit into any specialized diet you might be on.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, these healthy food choices are excellent to add into your diet to get more water:

·         Cucumbers. These refreshing veggies are 95% water and rich in anti-inflammatories. Peel them and cut them up for salads or eat them along with tomatoes for a satisfying snack. You can even use them to infuse water with some extra flavor.

·         Watermelon. Just as the name suggests, this melon is 91% water. It also has plenty of lycopene, which is great for your skin.

·         Zucchini. This versatile vegetable can be used in a variety of dishes and packs a punch of 95% water. There are lots of antioxidants in this one as well as beta-carotene, which is great for your eyes.

·         Celery. This fibrous treat is 95% water as well. Many people who can’t tolerate the crunchy texture of the celery will enjoy it in a smoothie or juiced.

·         Strawberries. A deliciously sweet fruit, these little gems are packed with 91% water. Have them as a delightful dessert along with yogurt or ice cream (two other foods that bring extra water to the table)[7].

Other excellent options for hydration include tomatoes at 94% water, grapes at 92%, and oranges at a whopping 97%. Bell peppers and apples have 92% and 84% water, respectively[8] (as well as a lot of fiber). Even iceberg lettuce has water!

The Importance of Water Can’t be Overstated

Getting enough water, whether through drinking it or eating the proper foods that contain it, can help ensure that you get adequate hydration, and that can cut down on your risk of problems. That includes making it less likely that you will fall. Water and adequate nutrition serve as great fall prevention, but it’s always best to be prepared just in case. For optimal security, wear a medical alert pendant at all times and never hesitate to use it. Dehydration can cause numerous symptoms that might concern you; if you begin to worry, a button alarm can be right there at your fingertips to summon help in seconds.

As always, Alert1 wishes you health and safety!