Dehydration in the Elderly: Causes, Risks, and Interventions

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Dehydration is a loss of enough fluids in the body and not being able to replace them. It can happen to people of any age, but older people are more susceptible to dehydration. This is because as we age, our fluid reserves are not as abundant compared to when we were younger.

Water is a crucial element for our body to do various processes. Not enough of it may result in complications such as constipation and lack of electrolytes. Usually, dehydration happens during or after rigorous activities, workouts, or hot days. This is why drinking plenty of fluids is very crucial to ensure your body is hydrated lest you end up with complications, especially if it's left unaddressed.

Causes and Risk Factors of Dehydration in Elderly People

Senior citizens are more prone to dehydration than younger people.

Body Fluid Decline

Naturally, we have bodily fluids responsible for maintaining enough water reserves. These water reserves are used for quenching thirst when we haven’t drunk enough fluids. Due to age, the amount of fluids in our body begins to decrease making dehydration more prevalent.

Thirst Response Decline

Thirst response refers to your body’s way of making you feel thirsty. This will encourage you to drink lots of fluids when your body needs them. However, as we begin to age, this body’s function also declines. This is why most seniors are not able to drink enough water because they don’t know when they are thirsty.

Decrease In Proper Kidney Function

Your kidneys’ function is affected as you reach old age, thus urination will become more frequent. This means that more fluids are being released than stored by the body.

Certain Medications

Medications can also be the cause of dehydration in seniors. This is because certain drugs can cause increased urination. Medications such as diuretics for type 2 diabetes are just a few examples.

Diarrhea / Vomiting

Diarrhea or vomiting is one major contributor to dehydration. This is due to the loss of electrolytes, minerals, and body fluids of the body. Persistent cases of this condition without treatment might even result in severe dehydration.

Excessive Sweating

Excessive sweating can happen during or after rigorous activities like exercising, hiking, and working out. This means that more fluids are released by your body. Drinking plenty of water during rigorous activities is crucial to replace the lost fluids in your body.


Having a fever is known to cause dehydration. The more severe the fever is, the more fluids are lost in your body. Whatever the cause of your dehydration, the best way to treat and prevent it is to drink plenty of water daily preferably 6 - 8 glasses each day.

Symptoms of Dehydration in Elderly People

Whether it’s hot weather, a rigorous workout, fever, or other factors, dehydration can happen to anyone and most commonly to seniors. If you notice yourself or someone experiencing the following symptoms, it might be an evident sign of dehydration.

  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness/Lightheadedness
  • Decreased urination
  • Urination is darker in shade
  • Muscle cramps

It’s important to address dehydration as early as possible before it leads to more severe conditions like:

  1. Fainting
  2. Disorientation
  3. Mobility problems
  4. Rapid heart rate
  5. Persistent diarrhea and vomiting for more than 24 hours

Dehydration is not just a simple condition that goes away without doing anything. Neglect of the symptoms of dehydration may lead to complications like:

  • Kidney problems (UTI, kidney stones, kidney failure)
  • Heatstroke
  • Low potassium and sodium levels
  • Blood pressure and oxygen drop/hypovolemic shock

I’m sure you know that staying hydrated is one of the crucial practices to keep your body functioning. Treatments for dehydration can be done in the comforts of your home and without spending too much. This includes:

Replacing The Fluids That Your Body Lost

For mild to moderate cases of dehydration, drinking plenty of water and other fluids is necessary to replace the lost bodily fluids. For caregivers, you can give juice drinks or broth soup to your elderly if they are not comfortable drinking water.

Electrolyte-Rich Drinks

Electrolyte drinks can come in cans or bottles and are usually manufactured for athletes and sports enthusiasts. These drinks are a good substitute for water since it contains minerals like sodium, potassium, and fructose, all essential in rehydrating your body. You can buy them at your nearest supermarket or grocery store.

Hospitalization (For Severe Cases)

Dehydration is severe enough to necessitate rapid medical intervention. In this case, doctors will administer electrolyte and fluid medications intravenously.


Preventing dehydration is far better than getting treated. Not only that you’ll be spending money quite a bit, but you’ll also be hassled with scheduled hospital visits. The following are some tips you might want to consider to prevent dehydration:

Drink Enough Water

Of course one of the most effective and basic ways to keep dehydration at bay is to drink enough water daily. Preferably, doctors recommend we drink 6-8 glasses daily to keep our bodies well-hydrated.

If it’s hard for you to drink lots of water all at once, you can try to distribute your water intake throughout the day. For example, you can take 2 glasses of water in the morning, and another 2 after 2-3 hours, until you reach the goal at the end of the day.

Drink More Water Than You Normally Do When You’re Ill

As mentioned earlier, fever is one of the causes of dehydration. To address this, you should drink more water than you normally do when you’re not sick. This will help replace the lost electrolytes and keep the body hydrated throughout your recovery.

Plan Your Diet

Another way to give your body some extra fluids is to eat foods that have high water content. Vegetables, fruits, and soup are just a few on the list. You may also try adding yogurt and gelatins to your diet as well.

Improve Your Water To Something More Pleasing

If you’ve been drinking water and begins to bore you, why not improve your water to something more pleasing? You can add fruit extracts to your drink like lemon, lime, or orange with a spoonful of sugar to improve the taste.

Talk To Your Doctor

If you have other underlying health conditions that affect your hydration, it’s important to talk to a doctor about it. S/he may look into your medical background and diet to determine appropriate hydration procedures.

Final Thoughts

Dehydration can happen to people of all ages, but seniors are more at risk of it due to changes and the decline in their bodies. That’s why it’s important to ensure enough fluids in our bodies. Drinking plenty of water and other fluids, especially for active seniors will do the trick. For caregivers, it’s crucial to monitor your elderly’s daily fluid intake and encourage him/her to drink the recommended among of water daily.

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