August 12, 2021
Top Tips for Caregivers to Keep Your Loved One Hydrated in the HeatSenior Health
Summer months mean high temperatures and long hours of sunlight. For many, this is a welcome season—an opportunity to get out and enjoy the sunshine. But for seniors, particularly those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the excessive summer heat can be a real hazard.
Dehydration remains a serious issue for older adults, especially when temperatures elevate. Those battling memory decline often struggle with remembering to ensure the proper intake of fluids. There are also brain challenges at play that can interfere with one’s ability to recognize when they are thirsty. Lack of sufficient hydration is serious at any age, and for seniors, it has the potential to cause dire health outcomes and hospitalization.
In this article, we’re discussing what caregivers should know about the importance of hydration for your loved one over these remaining weeks of summer heat and providing expert insight on how to prevent dehydration.
Understand the Unique Risks & Challenges
Dehydration refers to insufficient fluid intake or a loss of body fluids, which can often result in medical emergencies or other adverse health effects. It’s a critical concern for seniors, whose body water content tends to be about half of that of younger people and an even more challenging one for the Alzheimer’s and dementia population. This group faces unique risks and challenges that every caregiver should understand in order to manage hydration properly.
First, let’s talk about the issue of thirst, an indicator that lets most of us know that our bodies require fluid. Older adults with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairment sometimes lose their ability to recognize thirst, and they don’t always have the level of verbalization necessary to alert a caregiver of their hydration needs. As a result, dehydration can go unnoticed for an extended period of time, causing more serious physical distress.
Compounded by weaker immune systems, the integration of certain medications, and the prevalence of incontinence, there’s even greater potential for loss of fluids and lack of proper intake. All of this amounts to precarious hydration levels that must be monitored consistently and effectively in order to avoid the consequences of dehydration.
Know the Signs & Symptoms of Dehydration
One of the most effective ways to combat dehydration is by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms early on before they spiral into more dangerous situations. Some of the most common ones to watch out for include:
- Dry mouth
- Dark urine
- Reduced skin elasticity
- Muscle cramps or aches
- Difficulty walking
- Increased heart rate
- Changes in blood pressure
- Rapid weight loss
As mentioned, your loved one’s sense of thirst and/or capacity for effective verbalization may not be an adequate indicator for addressing hydration issues. Therefore, it’s vital to pay particular attention to the aforementioned signs and symptoms as a way to mitigate the risk of dehydration and detect it as early as possible.
Of course, some of these issues manifest as a result of unrelated factors, like medication side effects, age- or injury-related problems, etc., so it’s also important to establish proactive hydration measures to help alleviate the need for relying solely on symptom detection.
Follow Expert Recommendations for Water Consumption
The general recommendation many have followed for years is to ensure you’re taking in eight glasses of water a day, and this is probably a good rule of thumb for your loved one. There’s no specific outline for proper water consumption, as each person’s body and needs are unique. The smartest way to approach fluid consumption is to talk to your loved one’s doctor about their individual requirements.
For some added perspective, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has determined that an adequate daily fluid intake for the average, healthy adult living in a temperate climate is:
- About 15.5 cups of fluids a day for men
- About 11.5 cups of fluids a day for women
These recommendations cover fluids from water, other beverages, and food. But we know that seniors have unique needs in this regard, and their total fluid intake may need to be modified based on other factors, such as:
- Age and overall health
- Environment or weather
- Level of exercise or physical activity
- Conditions like bladder infections and urinary tract stones
Ensuring that total water consumption is accounted for means making fluids available and easily accessible throughout the day. It might involve offering beverages every so often, placing a water bottle nearby, and accompanying each meal with a drink. Simply waiting for your loved one to indicate they are thirsty is not an effective way to address hydration, especially in the summer when high heat means excess sweating and loss of fluids.
Introduce Variety & Foods High in Water Content
Drinking large amounts of water can be difficult for anyone, so it’s helpful to bring variety to the table. After all, water is not the only avenue for fluid intake. You can inject some additional flavor by adding fruit slices to your loved one’s H2O or by introducing other options entirely. Consider whether they might enjoy varieties like seltzer, lemonade, milk, juice or tea, paying close attention to sugar levels in the process.
Additionally, there are some foods with a particularly high water content that can help your loved one stay hydrated in the summer heat. Fruits like melons are a popular choice, as are cucumbers, lettuce, broths, and soups. Every so often, you might try to incorporate special hydration-rich treats like popsicles or milkshakes. When managed in moderation, they can aid in enabling your loved one to consume an adequate level of fluids throughout the season’s high-temperature days.
Limit Intake of Coffee & Alcohol
When it comes to hydration, not all beverages are created equal. Some have more of a diuretic effect and contribute to fluid loss rather than preservation. Two of the most frequent offenders are coffee and alcohol. While these can be popular preferences for adults, seniors must be extra careful in their consumption. Try to limit your loved one’s intake of these beverages to avoid their dehydrating effects.
At the end of the day, caring for your loved one’s hydration needs this summer is about being proactive and aware. It’s always better to stay on top of the issue than to treat more severe outcomes later on. Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia are at increased risk given the factors explored above, and sometimes their needs are best managed under the care of professional staff.
If your loved one begins to require more attention and care than they are practically receiving at home, it may be time to consider the benefits of a memory care community. Critical elements like hydration and nutrition can often be more effectively managed in these types of communities, significantly improving the quality of life for both you and your loved one.