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Health & Exercise Forum

Prevent Dehydration in the Elderly: Part 3 of 3

Jul 7, 2014


Part 3 of 3 on Dehydration in the Elderly

Because of the possibility of the life-threatening, and at best life-altering, consequences of dehydration, prevention is best defense against dehydration. We must take a proactive approach to ensure and/or encourage adequate fluid intake. Consider some of the following practical tips to promote optimal hydration.

Review your medications and note if any have the potential to reduce your body fluid levels or alter your electrolyte balance. Diuretics, hypnotics, and laxatives are some examples of medications that have the potential to contribute to dehydration. Avoid beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol since both have dehydrating properties. Keep a check on your urine. As a general guide to hydration, urine should be plentiful, pale in color, and odorless. Dark, scanty, and strong-smelling urine may be the signal of dehydration.

Remember that simply breathing in and out uses more than a pint of water a day. On an average day, try to drink about two liters of water. You will need to hydrate more of you are experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, or an infection that causes fever. If you are exercising, drink slowly and frequently, especially in hot weather.

Some elderly individuals fear frequent nightly urination. To prevent this occurrence, begin your fluid consumption early and not later then 6 o’clock at night. Eliminate the need to “think” about drinking more fluids. Carry a water bottle around with you or at least keep a glass filled with your favorite, healthy beverage within your reach or at least within your view! Having fluids nearby and easily accessible will help to remind you to drink!

Plan and provide “opportunities to drink”. Individuals typically consume more fluids in a social setting. I witnessed this first-hand. My mother, who was recently hospitalized, constantly complained about how bad the coffee tasted. One day after lunch, my mom, her roommate, and I were having a nice conversation. As our social visit jumped from one topic to another, I noticed that my mother was taking an occasional sip from her coffee cup. Not long thereafter her cup was empty! Another idea is to have a “taste-test”. Gather a group of friends at your home and have fun guessing the flavor of various juices or soft drinks. Invite some companions to meet at a local restaurant for an afternoon “tea” (or other preferred healthy beverage). One last suggestion is to schedule a happy hour before your evening meal and serve liquid appetizers (e.g. tomato juice, orange juice, V-8 juice) or non-alcoholic drinks such as a virgin Bloody Mary.

We must admit that we are all human and tend to judge a book by its cover. With that in mind, do not overlook the appearance of the beverage you offer! Fluids with appealing colors (e.g. pink lemonade) served in attractive bottles, glasses, or stemware are more alluring to the senses and more likely to be sampled. Use a blender to mix cocktail combinations: kiwi-strawberry, vanilla and root beer soda, ginger ale and cranberry juice, and orange and pineapple juice. Garnishing a simple glass of water with a wedge of lemon or a frozen strawberry may be the stimulus that some people need to take their first taste. Adding sprigs of fresh mint or lemon verbena can make a fresh-tasting drink with an appetizing aroma.

In addition to appearance, texture is an important factor to consider when encouraging fluid consumption. Create frozen liquids such as lemon ice, popsicles, gelatin desserts, Italian ices, and snow cones. These delicious drink ideas not only provide healthy hydration but also are a treat to eat.

Fluid substances are not the only way to prevent dehydration. Many types of solid foods contain a substantial amount of water. If an individual has difficulty swallowing liquids or is on a fluid-restricted diet, it may be possible to maintain adequate hydration by increasing the amount of moisture consumed in foods. Fruits and vegetables are great examples because they contain 80% to 90% water.

Knowledge of the symptoms of and the prevention of dehydration can reduce unnecessary hospitalizations and maximize health and well-being for the elderly individual.

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!

CONTRIBUTOR: Janet M. Caputo, PT, DPT, OCS – is an associate and clinic director at Mackarey Physical Therapy where she specializes in outpatient orthopedic and neurologic rehab.

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.