My elderly mom developed a sneaky habit a few years ago. Whenever we tried to put some fluids in front of her, she would think of something else urgent she had to do in another part of the house. We didn’t think much of it until she started to complain about not being herself. Headaches, nausea, confusion: these were some of her symptoms. It turned out she was experiencing severe dehydration and had acquired a Urinary Tract Infection. A couple of weeks of antibiotics, and constant reminding from us and her caregivers about drinking enough fluids, and she was fine.
Most of us do fine by paying attention to our sensations of thirst. But in older people this sense of thirst tends to decline with age. (1) Here are some of the telltale signs that your aging loved one may be suffering from dehydration and not even know it:
1) Color: When we are properly hydrated urine is almost clear and odorless. But when our system has insufficient fluid for proper kidney function, the urine becomes dark yellow with a strong odor. Certain foods can cause discoloration and odors, so if you see these symptoms, investigate what your loved one has been consuming in the past 24 hours.
2) Fatigue: My own mother complained of being tired all the time when this happened: lack of interest, didn’t want to get out of bed or off the couch. Interestingly though, this same condition can cause sleeplessness or insomnia.
3) Headaches or Difficulty Concentrating: studies have shown that even mild dehydration can lead to these symptoms. Drinking water can alleviate these symptoms. (2)
4) Cramps in the Muscles: Dehydration caused by sweating can deplete the body of sodium and other essential minerals. An insufficiency of these minerals can interfere with the electrical impulses that trigger our muscles, thus leading to cramps.
5) Irregular Heart Beat: Rapid heart beat and palpitations can be caused by dehydration as well. As with the impulses that drive the muscles, since our hearts are muscles, the function of the heart can be adversely affected by too little fluids in our bodies. The systems can be a fluttering or racing heart or pulse.
6) Skin Changes: When we get low on fluids, the body tires to protect the internal organs by drawing water away from the skin, and directing in inward towards the internal organs. If this is the case, our skin loses some of its elasticity and healthy glow. A quick test is to pinch the skin on your arm between your thumb and forefinger. If it takes longer than one second for the skin to return to normal, you may be dehydrated.
7) Headaches: Headaches and migraines may be triggered by lack of water in some people. If you have your family’s caregiver supply your loved one with water as soon as they complain about headaches, chances are these symptoms will be relieved rather quickly. However not all headaches are caused by lack of water, and there may be another underlying cause.
8) Blood Pressure Drop: With a lower volume of fluids in the body, less blood is available to pump through the arteries. This lower volume causes the heart to beat faster (rapid heart rate) to make up for less blood in the system. But it also lowers pressure on artery wall, which causes a drop-in blood pressure. This lower blood pressure can be dangerous, as it can lead to light headiness and dizziness when standing up.
9) Irritability or Confusion: If mom or dad seem unusually cranky, lack of water could be the culprit. Try not to engage them in the argument, and get a glass of water or their favorite non-alcoholic drink in front of them as soon as possible.
We hope this helps, and if you need any advice about how to care for your elderly parents, one of our knowledgeable staff is available 24 hours a day to help. We’d love to hear from you as we love what we do. Our family of caregivers have dedicated themselves to helping you.
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