Care Guides > What are the Symptoms of Dehydration in the Elderly

What are the Symptoms of Dehydration in the Elderly

Signs and symptoms of dehydration
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The Met Office has issued a four-day amber extreme heat warning this August, with temperatures set to reach up to 35ºC.

This poses a risk to anyone’s health, but those most vulnerable – including the elderly generations – could be severely impacted.

Our new research has found a surge in online searches for signs of dehydration in the elderly:

  • 8700% increase in online searches on Google for ‘severe dehydration symptoms in adults’ over the last 12 months

  • Over 5000% increase in online searches on Google for ‘symptoms of dehydration in elderly’ over the last 30 days

  • 400% increase in online searches on Google for ‘causes of dehydration in elderly’

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In this article on symptoms of dehydration in the elderly:

  1. Why is hot weather dangerous for the elderly?
  2. The most common symptoms of dehydration in the elderly
  3. Tips for keeping your loved ones hydrated

Why is Hot Weather Dangerous for the Elderly?

Dehydration is dangerous – no matter what your age. However, older adults have a higher risk of dehydration. What’s more, as we get older, our ability to respond to heatwaves and hot weather in general becomes less adequate.

This is why it’s crucial to learn the symptoms of dehydration; especially if you’re looking after an elderly loved one.

When you’re dehydrated, you may experience low blood pressure, weakness and dizziness, Your risk of falling will also increase. With temperatures reaching 40ºC during July 2022’s heatwave, it isn’t surprising to see such an increase in people worried about their elderly loved ones and turning to Google for support as a result.

Older woman trying to keep cool

Signs of dehydration are visible in your urine too. If you’re worried, check your loved one’s wee. Dark and strong-smelling urine is a clear sign that they need to drink more fluids.

August 2022’s temperatures are set to soar again – so it’s important to raise awareness of the most common symptoms of dehydration, along with what to do if your loved one becomes unwell. Take this time over the next few days to check in on your elderly relatives or neighbours, as these temperatures can pose a risk to their health.

The Most Common Symptoms of Dehydration in the Elderly

Here are the most common signs and symptoms of dehydration to keep an eye out for in the elderly:

  • Dryness of the mouth, lips, and tongue
  • Muscle weakness or cramping
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • An inability to sweat
  • Sunken eyes
  • Urine that’s a darker colour than usual

Meanwhile, the following are more severe symptoms that require immediate medical attention:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Trouble moving or walking
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Fainting
  • Diarrhoea or vomiting that lasts longer than 24 hours

Signs and symptoms of dehydration in the elderly

Rehydration - Keeping Your Loved Ones Hydrated

Dehydration is a common challenge for older people, especially those with dementia. They may not recognise the signs they need to drink more or be able to easily communicate their needs. Some medications and dementia-related illnesses like sundowning can also make dehydration worse.

However, you can make sure your loved one stays hydrated in the hotter temperatures by following our eight simple tips:

1. Offer a choice of drinks

Offering your loved one a choice of drinks can encourage them to top up their fluid levels - especially if they find water bland. Diluted fruit juice and flavoured water are good alternatives and can help to replenish fluids and electrolytes.

Make sure your loved one has regular cold drinks within easy reach. For instance, place a jug of fresh, cold water in every room and their go-to spots, including next to their favourite chair.

Old man drinking water

2. Eat healthily

Lots of fruit and vegetables are also great sources of water. Cucumbers, tomatoes, melons and oranges contain plenty of water and make the perfect healthy snack. They also provide all the nutrients needed to keep you healthy and well. You could make a lovely, fresh fruit salad for you both to share.

3. Understand their medication

Some medications (like diuretics) can make an elderly person more likely to become dehydrated - especially in hotter weather.

If your loved one takes any prescription medication, familiarise yourself with what they’re taking and whether there’s any risk of dehydration or thirst in hotter temperatures. You can offer a refreshing drink when it's time to take their medication to help keep their fluid levels up.

4. Avoid caffeine or sugary drinks

Tea, coffee, juice, fizzy drinks and wine can speed up the dehydration process while increasing the need to urinate more often. Make sure your loved one is drinking enough water throughout the day. You can also switch caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea to decaffeinated alternatives.

5. Make sure your loved one is well rested

The heat can increase exhaustion and fatigue - so make sure your loved one is getting plenty of rest during the summer months. If they take part in any physical activities then encourage them to take regular breaks - and use this time to top up fluid levels.

To reduce the risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion, remember to enjoy the sunshine during cooler parts of the day. Avoid direct exposure to the sun between 11am and 3pm as temperatures often soar during these times.

Elderly couple resting on a field

6. Make sure they’re dressed appropriately for the weather

There’s a high risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke when it’s very hot outside. To prevent any heat-related conditions, make sure you – and your loved one – wear light-coloured, loose clothing.

Materials such as cotton and linen allow the body to sweat and breathe naturally. These materials will prevent your loved one from becoming too hot.

7. Act quickly if you spot any signs of dehydration

Become familiar with signs of dehydration in the elderly (dryness of the mouth, confusion, tiredness, and fatigue) and act quickly if you notice your loved one displaying any signs of dehydration.

Offer them a hydrating drink that’s high in electrolytes to replenish their fluid levels and help them to cool down. Another idea is to ??move them to a cool place and gently spray them with cool water. A fan will also cool them down and ensure they stay well.

8. Keep rooms cool

When it gets really hot, keeping the indoors to a certain temperature is also important. In the UK, the recommended room temperature for the elderly is 21ºC in a living room and 18ºC for a bathroom. Meanwhile, bathrooms should be kept between 22ºC and 24ºC.

If you don’t have aircon then here are some other tips for keeping your loved one’s home cool during a heatwave:

  • Keep the windows closed and covered
  • Shut and insulate doors
  • Avoid using the oven or hobs
  • Use fans to create a cross breeze (this circulates cooler air while pushing hot air out)
  • If the temperature drops at night then open the windows before bed

Searching for a care home can be a stressful and often time-consuming experience. Thankfully, Lottie removes much of the difficulty from this process by connecting elderly people to care experts with years of expertise who can find them one of the UK’s very best care homes which is perfectly suited to their individual needs!

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