How To Improve Hydration and Reduce Heat Exhaustion in Seniors

Dehydration is a serious issue for seniors. It’s a common cause of hospitalization, particularly in the summer, and it can cause a variety of serious health issues. Staying hydrated is also essential for certain medications to work properly. However, because of the changes in the body as we age, seniors aren’t able to retain water as easily as younger people – plus, their body may not send them signs that they’re becoming dehydrated until it’s too late. 

“The biggest and most obvious sign of dehydration, for most of us, is thirst,” says Janet McNemar, NHA, MBA, Executive Director at Saunders House in Wynnewood, PA. “But seniors often lose their sense of thirst as they get older. Your loved one also grew up in a time when carrying around water bottles was not a common thing, so drinking water throughout the day may not be something that is a priority to them. This can make it hard to convince older adults that, yes, they should be drinking water, and a lot more than they may think.” 

In the summer, dehydration can severely increase your risk of developing heat exhaustion. This is a condition where your body overheats, which can lead to heatstroke – a life-threatening condition. Causes of heat exhaustion include being exposed to high temperatures or strenuous physical activity. This is why it’s so important to make sure that seniors and their loved ones understand the symptoms of heat exhaustion.

“Heat exhaustion causes its own physical issues, but luckily it can be easily avoided,” says Janet. “As you and your loved one are out and about this summer, be sure to look for these signs and take steps to alleviate them if they appear.” 

Signs of Heat Exhaustion

●      Cool, moist skin with goosebumps when in the heat

●      Heavy sweating

●      Faintness

●      Dizziness

●      Fatigue

●      Weak, rapid pulse

●      Low blood pressure upon standing

●      Muscle cramps

●      Nausea

●      Headache 

If you think you or a loved one are experiencing heat exhaustion, be sure to stop what you’re doing and immediately move to a cooler place. Hydrate with cool water or sports drinks, and use cool cloths to help quickly reduce body temperature. Once you or your loved one has stabilized, it’s a good idea to call the doctor or visit urgent care to make sure everything is okay. 

If these symptoms worsen, or they don’t improve after an hour, call 911. You’ll also want to seek medical attention if you notice the following symptoms which indicate heat exhaustion has progressed to heatstroke:

●      You or your loved one suddenly stop sweating

●      Hot, flushed and dry skin

●      Sudden confusion or disorientation

●      Loss of consciousness

●      Inability to drink 

Tips To Get Seniors To Drink More Water

One of the biggest ways you can help avoid heat exhaustion in yourself or a senior loved one is to stay properly hydrated – which isn’t always easy. However, we’ve put together some tips and tricks to help navigate your loved one’s preferences, health conditions and habits. The trick is to find creative ways to increase hydration in an enjoyable way. 

Remember that “fluid” doesn’t have to mean “a glass of water.”

While drinking water is the quickest and easiest way to get hydrated, a lot of people don’t enjoy the taste or experience. It’s wise to remember that there are many different sources of fluids you can tap, like decaffeinated tea and coffee, sweetened beverages, and fruits and vegetables. If your loved one has a serious issue with dehydration but he or she resists drinking healthy options, you may need to make a trade-off and allow him or her to drink “okay” options like diet soda or sugary drinks. You can also try to sneak more fluids into their daily diet by serving foods with high water content like watermelon, cucumbers, bell peppers, pears, strawberries and cantaloupe.* 

Keep water available and within reach.

Sometimes, all it takes to make someone drink more water is by making it easy for them to do so. Place pitchers of water and cups in high-traffic areas so that your loved one is reminded to drink more water. You might want to consider jazzing up water by infusing it with fresh fruits and vegetables to add a little pizazz and make hydration more appetizing. 

Drinks don’t have to be cold.

Your loved one may prefer to have hot or warm drinks instead of chilled beverages. Experiment to see what sort of options are most appetizing. You may want to try warming up juices, making iced coffee instead of hot brew, using a SodaStream to fizz up water, juice or tea … play around and see what options work best for your senior loved one. 

Consider savory options as well as sweet.

When we think of drinks, we generally gravitate towards sweetened beverages. Your loved one may enjoy something on the savory side instead of a neutral or sweet beverage, however. Broth is an excellent choice, especially in cold weather, but it can be something enjoyable to sip on even in summer. You can also look into chilled soups like gazpacho to scratch the fluid-rich-yet-savory itch.*

Don’t forget the power of treats.

Popsicles and flavored ices are excellent treats that help your loved one cool off and stay hydrated on a hot summer day. You can buy premade ones from the store, or you can make your own (a great activity to do with your loved one). Use fruit juices, a mix of juice and water or low-sugar drink mixes to make a variety of different flavors.* 

Unhealthy is okay from time to time.

Some older adults may just simply resist drinking any sort of fluids. In that case, offer options that are unhealthy but rich in fluids – things like milkshakes, smoothies, sports drinks or Ensure. They may not be the healthiest choices, but if it encourages them to drink more, you’re doing what’s right to keep your loved one safe and hydrated.* 

*When selecting any kind of beverage, please take into account any dietary restrictions.

We encourage you to call us with any general questions you might have and to stay current on a variety of senior health and caregiver topics by viewing the latest articles on our website.

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If you have comments or questions about our blog, “How To Improve Hydration and Reduce Heat Exhaustion in Seniors,” we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section.

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Located adjacent to Lankenau Medical Center, Saunders House – has a celebrated tradition of providing exceptional care and services to seniors and their families. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Saunders House offers a range of services, including short-term rehabilitation, traditional nursing care, restorative care, memory care, respite care, for individuals with visual impairments – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

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Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.

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