We’ve all probably heard the claim that drinking 8 glasses of water a day is important for good health. While there is no scientific evidence to back this claim, what we do know is that water is essential for us to function optimally.
As humans, 60% of our body weight comes from water and 90% of our blood volume is water. Water plays a significant role in the metabolic processes taking place within our body. As such drinking sufficient water and staying hydrated is key to maintaining the homeostasis and equilibrium of our body.
Are You Getting Enough Water?
We do know that water is vital for normal bodily functions. So, how much fluid should we be getting in a day? An average adult requires anywhere between 1 to 2 liters of water a day. This value varies according to various internal and external factors such as body weight, activity, climate, sex, etc. However, older adults are at a much higher risk of suffering from dehydration and may need increased amounts of fluids to stay hydrated. So, how much water should an elderly person drink a day is an important question to be answered.
Dehydration In Seniors
1. What is dehydration?
Dehydration simply means the body lacks fluids in its cells and blood vessels. Normally our body is constantly gaining fluids through the foods we eat and liquids we drink. At the same time, our body is also losing fluids through urination, perspiration, bowel movements and other metabolic functions.
There is a balance between the two processes, and when this balance is upset either due to lack of intake of water or excessive excretion of fluids, we suffer from dehydration. Our body loves equilibrium, and this upset in water balance, causes the body to take several adaptive actions to maintain its natural state. It signals a feeling of thirst to the brain, the kidneys begin to concentrate urine and more water is absorbed from our intestines to reduce the loss of water.
Elderly people are often more prone to dehydration and the risks involved in it for them are much higher as compared to younger adults. This is because elderly people often have pre-existing pathological conditions, which when combined with dehydration, can prove to be fatal, at times.
2. Why are seniors more prone to dehydration?
Unfortunately, our body’s adaptive mechanisms, which protect us from dehydration, work less successfully as we age. Elders have a reduced thirst perception, and their kidneys become less efficient at concentrating urine. As we age, we tend to lose water content from our body. In fact, the water content decreases by 20%, by the age of 80.
Chronic problems such as urinary incontinence can make elders reluctant to drink more fluids. Many elders also suffer from memory problems, which means they tend to forget to consume fluids. Mobility problems can also make it harder for an elder to access fluids. Another major factor is medication, seniors are much more likely to be taking medications such as diuretics, which only increase the risk of dehydration.
3. The consequences of dehydration
In short-term, dehydration can cause the following physical symptoms:
- Dry mouth and dry skin in armpits
- High heart rate, above 100 beats per minute
- Low systolic blood pressure
- Less frequent and dark-colored urine
- Sunken eyes
Chronic dehydration in elders can aggravate pre-existing pathological conditions and further create more serious health problems. In elders with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, even mild dehydration can worsen their thinking skills and cause confusion. Chronic mild dehydration can also make constipation worse. Dehydration can affect the efficiency of kidneys and in severe cases can even lead to acute kidney failure. Dehydration is also linked with increase in urinary tract infections (UTIs). Some seniors may also suffer from seizures due to imbalanced electrolytes.
4. How much fluid should an elderly person drink a day?
According to the amount of water loss an average elderly person goes through a day, the recommended minimum water intake is 1700ml a day. There is also a formula which is used to calculate the required amount of water intake per day based on body weight – 1500ml is the minimum amount of water intake, plus 15 ml per kg to be added for the actual weight minus 20 kg. This formula can be used for underweight, overweight as well as normal weighted elders.
Tips to Help Elders Stay Hydrated
As a family caregiver, here are some steps you can take to ensure your senior family member is getting enough water throughout the day.
- Offer fluids to your elder throughout the day. This should be done on a schedule.Make sure you provide your elder with a fluid that is appealing to them.
- Always keep water in a place easily accessible to them. If your senior suffers from mobility problems, consider giving them a reacher or grabber tool to make it more convenient for them to reach out for water. Remind them to stay hydrated, especially when it is hot outside or just after physical exertion.
- Some elders are reluctant to drink larger quantities of fluids, so offer smaller quantities throughout the day.
- Consider including high water content fruits and vegetables in their diet, such as watermelons and lettuce. Try including soups with their meals, this is because nearly 20% of our fluid intake comes from our diet.
- You need to identify any continence concerns that may be making your elder less inclined to consuming fluids. Try keeping a log of urination and incontinence episodes, as this can help you keep track of the problem.
- Consider a timed toileting approach. This means keeping a regular schedule to help your elder go to the bathroom. This is especially helpful for elders suffering from memory issues and mobility problems.
- Make sure to offer your elder extra fluids when it is hot outside and when they are ill.
- Track your efforts in a journal. While this may take extra effort, track how much fluid the elder is getting in a day to make sure they are consuming more than the recommended fluid intake per day. If you notice the person prefers a certain drink, make a note of it and try including it more often in their diet.
Water is something many of us take for granted. For most of us drinking water is an unconscious activity triggered by our body’s perception of thirst in order to avoid getting dehydrated. For seniors with an already weakened body, drinking water becomes critical to avoid health complications.
We hope this article helped address your concern as to how much fluid should an elderly person drink a day. Not only are seniors more prone to dehydration, they are also less likely to consume sufficient fluids. Conditions such as urinary incontinence can make seniors feel reluctant and even ashamed of consuming more fluids. As such, family caregivers need to take an interest in ensuring that their senior is staying hydrated and healthy. When your elder is hydrated and drinking sufficient fluids, it will improve their overall health, vitality and longevity.