Conditions of dementia such as confusion could be a sign of early stage Alzheimer’s. But confusion caused by Alzheimer’s does not come on quickly, it is a slow progression. If your loved one suddenly displays confusion, memory problems, delirium, dizziness, agitation or even hallucinations, look for other sources first, such as dehydration or a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). As the summer heat builds across the nation, it is time to remind ourselves of dehydration risks and what to do about it, with this article first published in July, 2016.
Dehydration as our parents age is something I’ve recently become concerned about with my mother.
Mom and I had a marathon day-out on a beautiful Saturday. It was sunny – not humid, but it was hot by the time we finished our errands. Mom was happy to be out with the breeze blowing through her hair and sun on her face. By the time she had gotten in and out of the van three times (doctor, lunch and farmer’s market visit), She was visibly tired and it was an effort to make that last trip from the car to the house. Worried about dehydration, I gave her cold water as soon as we got home. After resting a half hour, I got her to eat some watermelon.
I had brought a bottle of cold water for both of us that day, but she wouldn’t drink anything. When I asked why, she was afraid she would have to use a bathroom. This reluctance is common, as elderly are often embarrassed about needing help and fearful of being able to maneuver in and out of a bathroom stall. Even at home due to mobility issues, it is rare for her to get up just to go the bathroom if she is settled someplace.
Given her reluctance to drink while out and at home, I worry about dehydration. It is a serious medical issue for our parents. We take mom’s blood sugar in the evening and that night I had to prick three different fingers before I could get enough blood for a reading. I asked my sister-in-law who is a BSN if the slow flow of blood could have been caused by dehydration. The answer is yes. Getting a trickle of blood can also be caused by low blood pressure or because blood sugar is high, but in this instance I am convinced it was due to dehydration. In addition, as we age our bodies lose water content due to muscle mass loss. A medication your mom or dad is taking may alter the way their body takes in water. If dehydration is a constant problem, severe and even life-threatening health complications can occur.
- Medications: It’s not uncommon for seniors to be on several medications at any given time. Some of these may be diuretic, while others may cause patients to sweat more.
- Decreased Thirst: A person’s sense of thirst becomes less acute as they age. In addition, frail seniors may have a harder time getting up to get a drink when they’re thirsty, or they may rely on caregivers who can’t sense that they need fluids.
- Decreased Kidney Function: As we age our bodies lose kidney function and are less able to conserve fluid (this is progressive from around the age of 50, but becomes more acute and noticeable over the age of 70).
- Illness: Vomiting and/or diarrhea can quickly cause elderly dehydration.
Source: aplaceformom.com: Elderly Dehydration: Prevention & Treatment and
- Confusion and disorientation. Elderly people can become confused for a variety of reasons; dehydration is one of them. It also comes with physical symptoms that include dizziness, difficulty walking, and disorientation.
- Drop in blood pressure. If you’re actively monitoring the person’s blood pressure, you’ll be able to tell immediately if there is a drop. You may also notice that the person does not sweat or produce tears, has an unusually rapid heart rate, gets dizzy when going from lying to sitting or standing quickly, has a sticky or dry mouth and tongue, and the eyes have a sunken appearance.
- Skin that won’t bounce back. Gently pull the skin on the back of the patient’s hand up, and hold it there for a few seconds before letting go. If the skin does not bounce back within a few seconds, it is a symptom of dehydration.
- Trouble using the bathroom. If your loved one does not urinate or defecate as often as usual, or if the urine is dark in color, it is a sign of dehydration. Urine should be fairly light in color; darker urine indicates a high concentration of minerals and other contaminants that urine flushes out of the body. The more dehydrated a person is, the more concentrated their urine will be. In more severe cases, stool might be black or bloody.
- Exhaustion and changes in mood. Dehydration can also make people irritable and tired.
Source: elderoptionsoftexas: Signs of dehydration in the elderly
- Food with high concentration of fluid is a great way to get liquid into your parents if they are resistant to drinking for any reason. Giving my mother watermelon was exactly the right thing to do. Here are some other foods to consider: Soups, Jell-O, cottage cheese, yogurt, pudding, ice cream and gelatin. Here are some vegetables and fruits with high water content: leafy vegetables and carrots, apples, oranges, grapes, any type berry, and of course, watermelon.
- Alternate “sports drinks” such as Gatorade with water. These drinks contain important electrolytes your body uses when you are dehydrated.
- Give a small cup of water each time medicine is taken to get your parent used to drinking more. Include a straw or use a cup with a handle if that makes it easier for them.
- Additional website sources:
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.
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