Dehydration results from the lack of water in the body and causes an imbalance between water intake and loss. Its consequences can be very serious in the elderly if measures are not taken quickly. Find out all about this phenomenon in 5 questions.
1. What are the causes of dehydration ?
Sometimes it is just an oversight, because the person has not felt the thirst. Indeed, from a certain age, the water reserve decreases, it is 52% in men and 46% in women. It is therefore essential to compensate for this loss by drinking often. Other causes come into play:
- Water loss due to disease (diabetes) or strenuous activity
- The increase in temperatures in summer, but also heating in winter
- Neurological concerns (swallowing disorders, dysphagia)
- Medical treatments or taking medications such as diuretics or laxatives
These factors are aggravating and it is important for the elderly to hydrate regularly. Be careful, one of the common signs is feeling very thirsty, this could mean that the elderly person is already dehydrated.
2. How to recognize the symptoms of dehydration?
In the elderly, dehydration is manifested by the following signs, it is important to know them in order to be able to detect them.
- Little or no sweat, decreased urge to urinate
- A fever for no apparent reason which is accompanied by headaches
- Dizziness in response to a drop in blood pressure
- Vomiting or nausea
- A significant weight loss over a short period of time.
If you notice such signs, it is important to react quickly, because dehydration can lead in the elderly to convulsions or even disturbances of consciousness such as coma.
Note: A check-up is sometimes necessary in the event of hospitalization following dehydration with impaired vigilance. A blood test estimates the level of concentration of mineral salts in the blood. Sometimes you have to go further by doing additional tests to understand the cause of dehydration.
3. How to prevent dehydration in the elderly?
As we explained a little above, the elderly doesn’t necessarily feel thirsty. To anticipate this situation, it is important to follow these recommendations:
- Light clothing is preferred. Silk is a natural material, it acts as a thermoregulatory.
- In case of more intense activity than usual (sport, gardening, walking …), remember to drink regularly
- In the event of high heat, stay cool and avoid moving too much. A mist can be very helpful in cooling the body and face.
- The home must be ventilated and protected from the sun. Something to refresh a room? Place a wet sheet over the window to cool the ambient air.
4. Learn to treat dehydration in the elderly
Dehydration in the elderly is to be taken very seriously. It can indeed complicate certain diseases such as lung infections. The consequences are sometimes dramatic since it can cause death. In case of dehydration, a mixture of sugar (6 teaspoons) and salt (one teaspoon) in one litre of water is recommended. In all cases, you should contact your doctor urgently or the SAMU if the person loses consciousness. If dehydration results from diarrhea, a diet based on rice, cooked carrots, cooked apples and quinces, and bananas is recommended.
5. How can they be made aware of the dehydration of the elderly?
Preventing dehydration in the elderly requires awareness. It is necessary to ensure hydration of the body even outside of so-called exceptional situations (heat wave). It is essential to compensate for water loss due to the skin, the respiratory system, the digestive system. In the retirement home, staff are trained to ensure the hydration of residents. These recommendations can broadly apply to people living at home, with the help of remote monitoring, family or caregivers.
- Explain the risks to the elderly
- Always leave a glass of water nearby and vary the drinks (except coffee and alcohol of course)
- Prepare meals with foods rich in water
- Monitor the weight and the oral mucosa
- Facilitate the taking of drinks with ergonomic glasses, practical gourds if the elderly person has difficulty handling objects.