As most of us know, our bodies are composed of mostly water. In fact, more than 70 percent of the body's weight is because of the presence of water. The maximum amount of water is present within the cells, also known as intracellular space. The remaining water is found in the extracellular space that comprises the interstitial space (between the cells) and intravascular space (blood vessels). There is a continuous cycle of water intake and loss, while it maintains a specific quantity of water in the body.
Water is lost through activities like sweating, urination, and exhalation during breathing. Body dehydration occurs when the body contains an insufficient amount of water and electrolytes to carry out its normal functions. Though it can occur in any age group, dehydration is most common among senior citizens. The signs and symptoms of dehydration vary significantly, depending upon the age group. Let's take a look at the causes and effects of dehydration in the elderly.
Signs of Dehydration in the Elderly
Dehydration is a major cause for hospitalization among the elderly. The reason for increased chances of dehydration among senior citizens is less fluid content in the body, about 10 percent less than that of an average adult's body. It is also the physiological changes associated with aging, like reduced sense of thirst and loss of appetite that trigger the onset of dehydration in older people.
Dehydration in the elderly can also be caused due to the side effects of medications (e.g. diuretics and laxatives) and other medical problems, like high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), diarrhea, vomiting, heat exhaustion (increased core body temperature), heat stroke, infections, and even exercise. The signs of dehydration are mild and vague, in many cases. They are more or less similar to dementia and Alzheimer's symptoms. The following are some of the signs of dehydration in the elderly.
- Muscle weakness
- Sunken eyes
- Urinary tract infection
- Weight loss
- Dry and poor skin elasticity
- Less urine output
- Increased heart rate
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Increased infection occurrence
Dealing with Dehydration in the Elderly
Irrespective of the afflicted patient's age, proper diagnosis and treatment of dehydration is recommended to avoid certain medical consequences. You can discuss with the concerned physician about the side effects of the current medications that the patient is on. Treatment for the elderly is necessary, especially if it is caused due to an underlying disease. Some of the complications of dehydration are kidney failure, coma, shock, electrolyte abnormalities, and the like.
To sum up, it is advisable to maintain normal water volume in the body to avoid the symptoms mentioned above. The best way to prevent dehydration in the elderly is drinking lots of water and other healthy, homemade fluids. Food and drinks containing sodium and potassium should also be incorporated in one's diet, to restore the electrolyte balance, where too much of either (especially sodium) must be controlled. It is also important to monitor fluid intake and output, and check weight regularly to identify the absence of water in the body on a daily basis.