Dehydration is common among older adults and is one of the most common diagnoses on admission to hospital.

Dehydration can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on how much of your body weight is lost through fluids.

The causes

Dehydration is often due partly to inadequate water intake, but can happen for many other reasons as well, including as a side effect of prescribed medication like diuretics (commonly known as water tablets), diarrhoea, excessive sweating, loss of blood as well as diseases such as diabetes.

Ageing itself makes people less aware of thirst and also gradually lowers the body’s ability to regulate its fluid balance. Try not to wait until you are thirsty to start drinking water as at that point dehydration has already started.

Staying Hydrated

Everyone knows, but many people seem to forget that water is what sustains life.

Benefits of being hydrated

  • Older people who get enough water tend to suffer less constipation, use less laxatives and have fewer falls which results in fewer admissions to hospital.
  • Drinking at least five 8-ounce glasses of water daily reduces the risk of fatal coronary heart disease among older adults.
  • Caregivers should make sure customers have water by their side at all times. Encourage frequent drinking in moderate amounts.

Recognise the symptoms

Mild signs of dehydration

  • Dryness of mouth; dry tongue with thick saliva
  • Unable to urinate or pass only small amounts of urine; dark or deep yellow urine
  • Cramping in limbs
  • Headaches
  • Crying but with few or no tears
  • Weakness, general feeling of being unwell
  • Sleepiness or irritability

More serious sign of dehydration

  • Low blood pressure
  • Convulsions
  • Severe cramping and muscle contractions in limbs, back and stomach
  • Bloated stomach
  • Rapid but weak pulse
  • Dry and sunken eyes with few or no tears
  • Wrinkled skin; no elasticity
  • Breathing faster than normal

What to do in the case of emergency dehydration

The risk of dehydration increases in elderly customers when they are suffering severe vomiting or diarrhoea.

Seek medical advice if the person experiences any of the following:

  • Increased or constant vomiting for more than a day
  • Temperature over 38ºC (101F) that doesn’t settle with temperature lowering measures and medication
  • Diarrhoea for more than two days
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Decreased urine production

Seek urgent medical advice if these situations occur:

  • Temperature higher than 39ºC (103F) that doesn’t settle
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest or abdominal pains
  • Fainting
  • No urine in the last 12 hours
  • What to do in the case of emergency dehydration

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