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Proper Hydration in the Elderly
Hydration is key to staying and feeling healthy. Your body has an intricate system of keeping fluids and electrolytes balanced, and proper hydration is a main component of this process. If this system is not functioning properly, you may suffer the dangerous consequences of dehydration. In the elderly, this regulation system may no longer function properly on its own, making dehydration more common -- making adequate hydration even more important.
The Importance of Hydration
Dehydration is a risk factor for increased morbidity and mortality, especially in the elderly. This condition can lead to hospitalization, infection, loss of cognitive function, and even death if not treated immediately. Due to changes in the body during aging, such as a decrease in total body water as well as a decrease in being able to sense thirst, dehydration can happen quickly in the elderly. Staying hydrated every day is the best way to prevent this.
Symptoms of Dehydration
Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, no urine or very concentrated urine, sunken eyes, lethargy, low blood pressure, rapid heart rate and dry skin. Symptoms of dehydration should not be overlooked. If you suspect that you are dehydrated, try drinking small, frequent amounts of fluids such as water. If your symptoms do not improve, call your doctor or go to the hospital, as severe dehydration may requires medical attention.
Daily Hydration Requirements
Water needs vary from day to day and from person to person. However, the general recommendation for fluids is at least 6 to 8 cups, or 48 to 64 fluid ounces daily. Your fluid needs may be increased if you are losing excess water through sweat or urine. As a rule of thumb, you should drink 4 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during periods of excess loss.
Because the thirst mechanism in the elderly may be dysfunctional, focus on drinking small, frequent amounts of fluid throughout the day rather than waiting to feel thirsty. Water is the best option for hydration, but any fluids count toward the daily requirement. If you are drinking juice or soda, try mixing it with half a glass of water to cut down on the sugar and calorie content. Additionally, you can get fluids through foods such as soups, fresh fruits and vegetables, and ice pops.
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