The importance of hydration in elderly care

With the summer in full bloom and the evenings getting longer, it can be tempting to while away long days in the sunshine, but staying hydrated is important if we want to avoid heat exhaustion and stay safe this summer. As we get older, our bodies become less able to recognise when our fluid levels need replenishing, therefore maintaining hydration is a key part of elderly care.

What causes dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when our body loses more water than we drink. Water makes up around 60% of an average adult’s body weight, and plays a key role in most vital bodily functions. For example:

Digestion: We cannot digest the soluble fibre in our diet without enough water. This also means our bodies aren’t able to absorb minerals and nutrients from food as efficiently, potentially leading to digestive issues, deficiencies, and fatigue.

Cartoon of a stomach against blue background

Regular bowel movements: Water keeps everything moving through our systems, and helps to soften stools keeping things regular and preventing constipation.

Regulating our body temperature: The water in our muscle cells exchanges heat with the water in our blood. The hypothalamus in our brain senses the heat increase in the blood and triggers the sweating process which cools the body through evaporation.

Joint movement: Water stimulates the production of synovial fluid which acts as a lubricant between our joints and helps reduce friction and facilitate movement.

We lose water in several ways throughout the day, such as breathing and perspiration, so it’s important to keep on top of our fluid levels to minimising dehydration.

Why are older people more vulnerable to the heat?

The amount of water our bodies need varies depending several factors, including height, weight, age, overall health, and how active an individual is. Once we reach senior age, our muscle mass starts to decline, therefore reducing the amount of water in our bodies. Our internal organs don’t work as efficiently as they use to, and we become more susceptible to illnesses which can cause us to rapidly lose fluids through side effects such as diarrhoea and vomiting.

As humans, our bodies are generally very adept at sending thirst signals to the brain, letting us know when we need more water. However, we start to lose this mechanism in later life, and therefore consciously maintaining fluid levels is increasingly important for the older generation.

Top tips for staying hydrated this summer

The best fluid for our bodies is good, old fresh water, but other beverages such as juice, cordial, soft drinks, and smoothies are also effective and will keep fluids at a desired level. Keep in mind that caffeinated drinks can have a diuretic effect, so if you prefer a hot drink, try to alternate your tea or coffee throughout the day with a few glasses of water in between.

Glass jug of water with freshly sliced lemons

Encouraging your elderly loved ones or aged care residents to increase their fluid intake can be a challenge, particularly if those individuals are uncooperative. Here’s some top tips for helping older adults to stay hydrated this summer:

  1. Keep a water bottle on hand to ensure a drink is always close to hand. We have regular drink stations set up in convenient spots around our Japara homes so that residents can easily rehydrate when needed. Many residents also prefer to be able to help themselves and take control of their own health, rather than being ‘prescribed’ drinks by staff.
  2. Add fruit or herbs to plain water for variety. You could get creative with delicious flavour combinations, such as fresh strawberry with mint leaves, or slices of cucumber and lemon.
  3. Snack on foods with high-water content. Flavoured jellies, icy poles, and fruit and vegetables, such as watermelon and cucumber all contain plenty of water, and can provide a refreshing treat on a hot, summer’s day.
  4. Incorporate hydration into your lifestyle program. Lifestyle sessions such as tea tasting, icy pole making, and reading groups in the sun with a cool beverage and snacks will encourage residents to drink more fluids whilst shifting the main focus onto a more interesting activity.

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