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July 27, 2015

Protect the Elderly from Dehydration

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Summer heat can be brutal but it can be dangerous for the elderly. Senior dehydration is a common health issue that can lead to bigger problems if seniors do not hydrate properly. Up to 40 percent of heat-related fatalities were among people over 65 in the United States.

Many seniors fall prey to dehydration. With their age, their ability to notice changes in body temperature typically decreases, as does their body water content, and they often experience a diminished thirst, which leads to reduced fluid consumption. Also, many seniors have underlying health conditions that make them less able to adapt to heat. The medications they take can make them more susceptible to dehydration.

Proper hydration is crucial and can help prevent issues like urinary tract infection and low blood pressure. Family members and caregivers need to understand the risks of dehydration among seniors and plan ahead to make sure their loved has adequate hydration. They should offer fluids on a regular basis throughout the day. Also, keep water bottles or a water cooler available throughout the day wherever the senior is, such as in bed, on the patio or out and about.

Other tips include:

  • Encourage them to drink, even with they are not thirsty. But avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks as they can contribute to dehydration.
  • Wear appropriate clothes like light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes and a wide brimmed hat.
  • Stay indoors during mid-day hours. During periods of extreme heat, the best time to run errands or be outdoors is before 10am or after 6pm, when the temperature tends to be cooler.
  • Avoid exercise and strenuous activity, particularly outdoors, when it's very hot out.
  • Watch the heat index. When there is high humidity, it is tougher for the body to cool itself through sweating. The heat index factors humidity and temperature to approximate how the how the weather really feels.
  • Seek air-conditioned environments like the mall, library or movie theater.

Family members and caregivers should also know the warning signs of heat-related illness, such as dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, fainting and breathing problems. Seek medical attention immediately when such warning signs are evident.

By Christopher Klimek, physician assistant certified, ThedaCare Physicians-New London