Proper hydration isn’t just about quenching thirst. It’s a key component in living a vibrant, healthy life. Drinking enough water can positively impact physical well-being and brain function and support the health of vital organs.
For older adults, changes to the body and external factors — such as the side effects of medication — can create more susceptibility to dehydration. Recognizing the signs of dehydration and finding ways to drink or ingest more water through certain foods can significantly improve health and quality of life.
The Benefits of Hydration
Staying adequately hydrated opens up opportunities to experience many benefits that contribute to overall health and well-being, including:
- Enhanced brain function and improved concentration: In one study, hydration was shown to positively influence mood and alertness.
- Regulated body temperature: This ensures that the body stays within a healthy range, especially during hot weather or physical exertion.
- Healthier heart and stable blood pressure: Hydration promotes proper blood pressure regulation and decreases the risk of cardiovascular complications.
- Improved joint and muscle health: Good hydration can minimize painful cramps and sprains.
- Better organ function: This is especially helpful for kidney health.
- Stronger skin health: Staying hydrated helps maintain elasticity and prevent dryness.
- Immune system support: Proper hydration can stave off illness and infections.
Vulnerability of Dehydration for Seniors
Some older adults are more vulnerable to dehydration due to internal changes, external factors, or a combination of both. Understanding these vulnerabilities is essential to staying hydrated.
Decreased Thirst Sensation and Thirst Response
Over time, many older adults may experience a decreased sensation of thirst, making them less likely to drink water, even when their bodies need it.
Changes to Kidney Function
Changes to kidney function from aging can alter the body’s ability to conserve water, contributing to a higher likelihood of dehydration.
Medication Side Effects
Some medications commonly prescribed to older adults — such as blood pressure medications — may produce side effects that cause the body to lose fluids.
Changes to Brain Function
Some cognitive conditions in older adults can impact the need for hydration. Many older adults forget to drink enough water because of memory issues caused by normal aging. In one study, patients with dementia were significantly more dehydrated than those without dementia.
Chronic Health Conditions
Adults with diabetes, kidney disease, or related conditions need to be particularly aware of hydration because these conditions affect the body’s fluid balance.
Susceptibility to Illnesses
Dehydration can weaken the immune system, making hydration vital for maintaining the body’s defense system and reducing the risk of infections.
Recognizing Signs of Dehydration
Recognizing the early signs of dehydration ensures quick action and prevention of potential health complications. A few of the most common signs include:
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Urine that is darker than usual or an amber color
- Less frequent bathroom usage
- Fatigue, dizziness, and confusion
- Changes to skin temperature and texture
- Sunken eyes or cheeks (in severe cases)
- Rapid heart rate or breathing
- Confusion, irritability, or difficulty concentrating
Tips for Preventing Dehydration
Several easy tips can help older adults reduce the chance of dehydration. By working these tips into a daily routine, it becomes easier to stay hydrated and manage overall well-being.
1. Ensure regular fluid intake throughout the day, even without the sensation of thirst.
For those struggling with feeling thirsty throughout the day, setting specific times for consuming water — such as during meals or after waking up — can help establish a regular habit.
2. Eat hydrating foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
Cucumbers, watermelons, and soups are just a few water-rich foods that can be incorporated into a diet to supplement fluid intake.
3. Manage medications to avoid those that increase the risk of dehydration.
Some medications might cause dry mouth, dizziness, or other signs of dehydration. Working closely with their doctor, older adults can review medications and discuss potential alternatives with minimal impact on fluid levels.
4. Include family, friends, and caregivers in the process.
For some older adults, a collective effort might be necessary. In this case, involve loved ones or caregivers who can help monitor and encourage water consumption.
Live a Balanced, Healthy Life
Staying hydrated is just one part of caring for physical health, and physical health is just one aspect of living a balanced life. It’s never too early to adopt habits and practices that enhance well-being and support passions, preferences, and interests.
Take the opportunity to reflect on your lifestyle, see what's working, and determine what you may want to adjust with the five pillars of a balanced life in our guide, Living Your Best Life After 55.