While it has been a fairly temperate season where we live and work, not all parts of the world have been spared the heat of summer. As we approach the dog days of summer – August – it may be helpful to offer a reminder on why older loved ones need some seasonal caregiver help in staying hydrated. A good place to start is in reviewing why older adults, as we have experienced in geriatric care management, are actually more at risk for dehydration than younger individuals.
An older person’s abilities to retain water and recognize when they are being depleted of water are often diminished.
- Just as with other sensory capabilities, an older adult’s sense of thirst may have weakened, so they just won’t feel the warning signs as a younger person would.
- On top of that, their sense of taste and hunger are both reduced, so they tend to salt their food more because that enhances taste, yet they will still eat less. This reduces fluid intake, because much of the water we ingest comes from the fruits or vegetables we consume.
- Because we all tend to eat or drink around meals or at a table with other people, the isolation that many older adults experience takes away opportunities not just to socialize but also to hydrate.
- As I have pointed out in other postings, older adults tend to have more chronic conditions such as diabetes, alcoholism or elevated blood pressure, and the conditions and/or their medications tend to deplete older adults of their body fluid.
- If your older loved one has followed the migrations of many, they have left the colder northern climates for places like Florida, Texas or Arizona. However, they take their food and fluid intake habits with them. This exposes them to more dehydrating heat with similar historical water intake from their colder origins.
If you are a caregiver to an older loved one, be aware of how much fluid your loved one takes in on a daily basis. This is not about being the guardian of the water, but it is about asking good questions and offering gently encouraging words about fluid intake. Watch for signs of dehydration like frequent licking of the lips, infrequent toileting trips, lack of appetite or maybe even some amount of disorientation. But don’t overdo it. Older adults also can over-hydrate – although not as commonly – which can be as disturbing to their electrolytic balance as dehydration. And if you cannot be present, it may be helpful to have a hired geriatric care management professional make wellness checks, especially during the height of summer. If nothing else, it can be a time for social interaction which cannot help but spark their food and water intake as well as their intellectual and psychological well-being. Just as a coffee break most often is more than just about the coffee, a water break is more than just about the water.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.