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Care Guides > What are the Symptoms of Dehydration in the Elderly?

What are the Symptoms of Dehydration in the Elderly?

Signs and symptoms of dehydration

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

Understanding the symptoms of dehydration - such as confusion, headaches and dizziness - is really important, particularly for more vulnerable members of society, including older adults and those with dementia.

When extreme heat occurs, you should monitor signs and symptoms to ensure your loved ones aren’t dehydrated.

Here, we’ve explained the most common signs and symptoms and what care home staff do to avoid dehydration.

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In this article on symptoms of dehydration in the elderly:

  1. Why is hot weather dangerous for the elderly?
  2. The most common symptoms of dehydration in the elderly
  3. Tips for keeping your loved ones hydrated
  4. Dehydration and dementia
  5. How care homes avoid dehydration

Why is Hot Weather Dangerous for the Elderly?

Dehydration is dangerous – no matter what your age. However, older adults have a higher risk of dehydration. As we get older, our ability to respond to heatwaves and hot weather in general declines.

That’s why it’s important to learn the symptoms of dehydration - especially if you’re a carer for an elderly relative.

When dehydrated, you may experience low blood pressure, weakness and dizziness. Your risk of falling will also increase. During the spring and summer months, it’s common for temperatures in the UK to reach 30°C and higher.

Signs of dehydration are visible in your urine, too. If you’re worried, check your loved one’s wee. Dark and strong-smelling urine clearly indicates they need to drink more fluids.

Older woman trying to keep cool

The Most Common Symptoms of Dehydration in the Elderly

Signs and symptoms of dehydration in the elderly

Here are the most common signs that your loved one may be dehydrated include:

  • A dry mouth, lips and eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Dark-coloured urine
  • Tiredness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Urinating less frequently
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Low blood pressure
  • An inability to sweat
  • Sunken eyes
  • Trouble moving or walking
  • Fainting
  • Diarrhoea or vomiting that lasts longer than 24 hours (this and fainting are indicators that your loved one may require immediate medical attention)

Source: NHS

Rehydration - Keeping Your Loved Ones Hydrated

Dehydration is a common challenge for older people, especially those with dementia. They may not recognise the signs they need to drink more or be able to easily communicate their needs. Some medications and dementia-related illnesses like sundowning and Norovirus can also worsen dehydration.

However, you can make sure your loved one stays hydrated all year round in a few simple steps:

1. Offer a choice of drinks

Offering your loved one a choice of drinks can encourage them to top up their fluid levels - especially if they find water bland. Diluted fruit juice and flavoured water are good alternatives and can help to replenish fluids and electrolytes.

Make sure your loved one has regular cold drinks within easy reach. For instance, place a jug of fresh, cold water in every room and their go-to spots, including next to their favourite chair.

Old man drinking water

2. Eat healthily

Lots of fruit and vegetables are also excellent sources of water. Cucumbers, tomatoes, melons and oranges contain plenty of water and make the perfect healthy snack. They also provide all the nutrients needed to keep you healthy. You could make a lovely, fresh fruit salad to share.

3. Understand their medication

Some medications (like diuretics) can make an older adult more likely to become dehydrated - especially in hotter weather.

If your loved one takes any prescription medication, familiarise yourself with what they’re taking and whether there’s any risk of dehydration or thirst in hotter temperatures. You can offer a refreshing drink when it's time to take their medication to help keep their fluid levels up.

4. Avoid caffeine or sugary drinks

Tea, coffee, juice, fizzy drinks and wine can speed up the dehydration process while increasing the need to urinate more often. Make sure your loved one is drinking enough water throughout the day. You can also switch caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea to decaffeinated alternatives.

5. Make sure they are well-rested

The heat can increase exhaustion and fatigue - so ensure your loved one gets plenty of rest during the summer months. If they participate in any physical activities, encourage them to take regular breaks - and use this time to top up fluid levels.

Remember to enjoy the sunshine during cooler parts of the day to reduce the risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Avoid direct exposure to the sun between 11am and 3pm as temperatures often soar during these times.

Elderly couple resting on a field

6. Make sure they’re dressed appropriately for the weather

There’s a high risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke when it’s very hot outside. To prevent heat-related conditions, make sure you – and your loved one – wear light-coloured, loose clothing.

Materials such as cotton and linen allow the body to sweat and breathe naturally. These materials will prevent your loved one from becoming too hot.

7. Act quickly if you spot any signs of dehydration

Become familiar with signs of dehydration in older adults (dryness of the mouth, confusion, tiredness, and fatigue) and act quickly if you notice your loved one displaying any signs of dehydration.

Offer them a hydrating drink that’s high in electrolytes to replenish their fluid levels and help them cool down. Another idea is to move them to a cool place and gently spray them with cool water. A fan will also cool them down and ensure they stay well.

8. Keep rooms cool

When it gets really hot, keeping the indoors to a certain temperature is also important. In the UK, the recommended room temperature for older adults is 21ºC in a living room and 18ºC in a bathroom. Meanwhile, bathrooms should be kept between 22ºC and 24ºC.

If you don’t have aircon, here are some other tips for keeping your loved one’s home cool during a heatwave:

  • Keep the windows closed and covered
  • Shut and insulate doors
  • Avoid using the oven or hobs
  • Use fans to create a cross breeze (this circulates cooler air while pushing hot air out)
  • If the temperature drops at night, open the windows before bed

Dehydration and Dementia

People living with a form of dementia often find staying hydrated tough. This could be because of:

  • Forgetting to drink due to memory loss
  • Being unable to communicate their thirst or feelings of dehydration
  • Finding it difficult to swallow

Here are several ways to keep somebody living with a form of dementia hydrated:

  • Offer them a range of fluid alternatives, rather than just water. These could include milk, tea, coffee or juices
  • Track their water intake and encourage them to drink more if necessary
  • Offer them jelly drops as an innovative way of increasing their daily water intake. These sugar-free sweets contain 95% water and added electrolytes

How Care Homes Avoid Dehydration

Care home residents are often at greater risk of dehydration, so care staff are on-hand to help with all their hydration needs.

Hydration care in a care home involves making sure every resident is drinking enough water or other fluids. Every resident’s hydration needs are unique, as some may have trouble swallowing liquids and need extra support.

Residents will be served a selection of drinks throughout the day, both with their food and inbetween meals.

Fluid-rich foods are another important way of avoiding dehydration in a care home. Porridge, cereal and yoghurt are popular breakfast options, while soup ticks this box as a lunch or dinnertime meal.

We’re on a mission to support individuals and their loved ones throughout each stage of their later living journey. For more information, check out everything Lottie has to offer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the fastest way to hydrate an older adult?

The best way for an older adult to rehydrate is by drinking water. If your loved one has grown tired of drinking standard water, flavoured water can be another great way to get much-needed electrolytes into their body.

What is the best drink for dehydration in older adults?

If you think your loved one is dehydrated, the best drink for them to have is usually water. There are numerous other benefits to drinking water for people of all ages - including older adults - such as preventing infection and regulating body temperature.

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