Depending on where you were this past summer and how high the temperatures climbed, you may have had dehydration on your mind. It’s easy to remember the need to drink enough water when the sun is shining and the head index is 90 degrees or more, but getting enough fluid is always important, regardless of the weather. As we grow older, changes in our bodies require that we be more intentional about staying adequately hydrated.
Aging’s Impact on Hydration
As you age, you become used to your body changing in ways that you can see, such as wrinkles and thinner skin. But our bodies undergo many changes we can’t see, and some of those impact our ability to hydrate. Dr. Rangaraj K. Gopalraj, a geriatric medicine physician with Norton Community Medical Associates, says, “About 66% of the body is made up of water, [but] as we age we can have less content of water, down to almost 40%, and that makes it easier to get dehydrated.”
The medications we may require can also impact our hydration. Some diabetes medications that help control A1c levels can have dehydrating side effects. Diuretics for heart conditions and laxatives can require more care and intention when it comes to getting enough fluids. Even allergy medications can make it harder to stay hydrated, which is especially bad news for those of us in the Ohio River Valley. Not only can medications impact hydration, but the opposite is also true: “The water in our body can determine how the medication works or impacts our body. Being dehydrated can complicate or impact the medications’ benefits,” says Dr. Gopalraj.
What is Adequate Hydration?
You may have heard the adage of “eight glasses of water a day,” but like so many things related to health, this is a simplified notion.
Hydration refers to total fluid intake, not just water intake. So if you begin your morning with two cups of coffee or hot tea, you’ve contributed to your total fluid intake even if you didn’t drink plain tap water. While clean water is the best option, there are some people who don’t like and just won’t drink plain H20. Dr. Gopalraj says, “Lemonade, orange juice, coconut water, something more than just plain water can help add a variety of nutrients to our bodies.”
And the amount that you should drink? Eight glasses is probably about right, although Dr. Gopalraj notes that a person with kidney disease or heart problems may not require as much water, even as they age.
A word of caution about how you hydrate: not all fluids are created equal, especially when it comes to sugar or hydrating power. “Drinking liquids with too much sugar can cause side effects like cramping or diarrhea. It is important to think about your choice of drinks. Alcohol usually dehydrates people more,” Dr. Gopalraj says.
The food you eat also contributes to your hydration. Obviously, watermelon is hydrating, but so are strawberries, cucumbers, lettuce, cantaloupe, peaches, and plenty of other fruits and vegetables. As we move into fall, many of us start adding back warm soups to our diet, and the broth contributes to our overall fluid intake.
How Do You Know if your Fluid Intake is Adequate?
This seems like it would have an easy answer, but it may be more complicated than you think. If you feel thirsty, you obviously need to drink something. But here’s the catch: sometimes we’re not so good at recognizing our thirst signals, especially when the temps aren’t blazing. And aging plays a role in our thirst. Dr. Gopalraj says, “As we age, the sensation of thirst doesn’t kick in as fast as when we are younger. So people are at more risk for dehydration at an older age.”
It isn’t uncommon for people to think they are hungry, when their bodies really just need some fluid. If you’re trying to be better about hydrating, you might consider drinking a glass of water when you begin to feel hungry to ensure you’re meeting whatever need you have.
Another good indicator of adequate hydration is the color of your urine. Pale yellow is the color you’re looking for that suggests you are getting the “Goldilocks” level of fluid: just right. Some people think that if pale yellow is good then clear urine would be better, but this may mean that you’re getting a little too much water, which could lower your salt and electrolyte levels. Urine that is honey-colored or darker is your body’s way of saying, “Drink up, now!”
Dangers of Dehydration
Dehydration, even slight, can impact our memory, mood, and digestion. It can affect our blood pressure and heart rate. Not getting enough fluids over a longer term can increase one’s risk for urinary and kidney infections, which are especially problematic for older adults. “There is clinical evidence that by staying hydrated you can reduce the risk of a UTI because you are flushing out the bacteria,” Dr. Gopalraj says. While such infections might be easily treated in younger people, they can be harder to treat or even life-threatening among the elderly. Sometimes they aren’t caught in a timely fashion because their symptoms are often behavioral (delirium), and family members think their parents are experiencing senility rather than an infection.
Get A Boost With Water Candy
Individuals with dementia may forget to drink or refuse to drink, but Jelly Drops might be a helpful solution to add additional fluid to a loved one’s diet. They are small, sugar-free treats that are colorful and fun to hold, but they pack a fluid wallop: they are 95% water and also contain electrolytes.
By Carrie Vittitoe | Photo by Jamie Street