Last week in Health & Exercise Forum, we discussed dehydration as a potentially life-threatening problem, especially in those over 60. Summer heat and humidity are here and the risk of heat related illnesses are greater than normal. Age, diet, illness and medications are some of the many reasons why elders suffer from dehydration not only in the summer heat, but year round. Furthermore, age related changes in 50-60 year olds can also make one vulnerable to dehydration, especially if they are active and exercise in the heat.
It is widely accepted that the best treatment for dehydration is prevention. One must take a proactive approach to ensure and/or encourage adequate fluid intake, especially with age and in high temperatures. Consider some of the following practical tips to promote optimal hydration.
- Medications: 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.
- Fluids that can dehydrate: Avoid beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol since both have dehydrating properties.
- 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.
- Early morning or late day exercise or activities: Avoid the hottest part of the day. Remember that simply breathing in and out uses more than a pint of water a day. Drink slowly and frequently when exercising. On an average day, try to drink about two liters of water and with activity you can double or triple that amount and consider sports drinks with electrolytes if you are engaging in activities longer than 45 minutes.
- Extra caution to hydrate if you are ill: You will need to hydrate more of you are experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, or an infection that causes fever.
- Make a hydration plan: 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!
- Be creative: Plan and provide “opportunities to drink”. 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.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. If texture is an important factor, create frozen liquids such as lemon ice, popsicles, gelatin desserts, Italian ices, and snow cones. Consider fresh fruit such as watermelon and pineapple. Fruits and vegetables are great examples because they contain 80% to 90% water.
Remember, knowledge and awareness of the symptoms of and the prevention of dehydration can reduce unnecessary hospitalizations and maximize health and well-being for the elderly and not-so-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, DPT, OCS
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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: email@example.com
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 GCSOM. For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles, check out our exercise forum!