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Dehydration in Seniors: An Often-Overlooked Health Risk

Dehydration can cause serious health problems so be alert to symptoms of dehydration in elderly

Dehydration is dangerous for senior health

Drinking enough water is important for everyone, but especially for older adults who are at greater risk for dehydration.

A UCLA study found that 40% of seniors may be chronically under-hydrated. 

That can easily lead to dehydration and cause a variety of serious health problems, including urinary tract infections (UTI), falls, kidney stones, and more.

And, adults age 65 and up have the highest hospital admission rates for dehydration.

To help keep your older adult healthy and safe, we explain why dehydration is so common in seniors, mild and serious dehydration symptoms, the health risks of being dehydrated, how much water a person needs, and the benefits of staying hydrated.


Why is dehydration so common in seniors?

Older adults are more likely to become dehydrated because they naturally have less water in their bodies.

They’re also likely to have health conditions or take medicines that increase their risk of dehydration – like blood pressure medications that flush water from the body.

In addition, seniors:

  1. Are less sensitive to the feeling of being thirsty

  2. Have a decreased ability to keep fluid levels in balance in the body

  3. Have less efficient kidneys, which causes urine to contain more water

  4. Often take medications that cause side effects like diarrhea or excessive sweating

Symptoms of dehydration in seniors

Early dehydration symptoms in older adults often go unrecognized because many of the signs of mild dehydration could easily be caused by other health conditions or medication side effects.

But it’s far easier to correct mild dehydration than deal with the complications of serious dehydration symptoms. 

Being familiar with the signs helps you take action sooner rather than later.

Mild dehydration symptoms

  1. Dry mouth

  2. Dark-colored urine or very small amount of urine

  3. Fatigue

  4. Dizziness

  5. Muscle cramps in limbs

  6. Headaches

  7. Feeling weak or unwell

  8. Being sleepy or irritable

Serious dehydration symptoms

  1. Low blood pressure

  2. Confusion

  3. Difficulty walking

  4. Fast, but weak pulse

  5. Bloated stomach

  6. Wrinkled skin with no elasticity – try the “pinch test

  7. Dry and sunken eyes

  8. Breathing faster than normal

  9. Severe cramping and muscle contractions in the body

  10. Convulsions


Health risks of dehydration

For seniors, being well hydrated is necessary for many medications to work properly.

Dehydration can also cause serious health problems, including:

  1. Heat stroke

  2. Fainting or passing out

  3. Urinary tract infections

  4. Kidney stones and kidney failure

  5. Seizures

  6. Blood clot complications

  7. Hypovolemic shock – when low blood volume causes a drop in blood pressure and a drop in the amount of oxygen in the body

How much water do seniors need?

For the average person, a general rule of thumb for how much water to drink each day is to take one-third of the person’s body weight in pounds and drink that number of ounces of water. 

For example, a 150 pound person would need 50 ounces of water daily, which is about six 8 ounce glasses of water. 

Of course, if the weather is very hot or dry, they’d need to compensate by drinking more water than usual.

However, because each older adult takes different medications and has different health conditions, it’s important to talk with their doctor to find out how much water is best for their body.

Benefits of drinking enough water

Aside from avoiding serious health problems, staying well hydrated has its benefits too.

Drinking enough water means:

  1. Less constipation / reduced need for laxatives

  2. Fewer falls

  3. Reduced risk of urinary tract infection

  4. Men may have reduced risk of bladder cancer

  5. Reduced risk of colorectal cancer

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team Sources: NCBI, Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic


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