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Hydration as You Age: The Effects of Dehydration

Dehydration happens when our body’s water content becomes too low. This can cause damage to our organs and interfere with normal body functions. Dehydration in seniors can happen quickly because water volume in the body naturally decreases with age, which can increase the risk of dehydration. Nearly 40% of seniors are chronically under-hydrated and because of this are at greater risk of urinary tract infections, falls, kidney stones, and more. In fact, adults ages 65 and older have the highest hospital admission rates. While dehydration can happen for a number of reasons, certain causes of dehydration in seniors are common.

Causes of Dehydration in Older Adults

Dehydration can occur for simple reasons such as being too busy and forgetting to drink enough water or being sick and unable to keep hydrated. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s important to  be aware of the following common causes of dehydration in seniors:

  • Diarrhea or vomiting. Severe diarrhea can cause dehydration very quickly. If severe diarrhea or vomiting occurs suddenly, it can cause your body to lose a large amount of fluid and electrolytes very quickly.
  • Fever. High fevers can quickly lead to dehydration, especially if they last for long periods. The higher the fever, the more dehydrated you can become in a short amount of time.
  • Excessive sweating. Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you consume. This can happen during hot summer days or when exercising. Instead of waiting to consume liquids after exercise, drink a little water throughout the activity.
  • Increased urination. Diabetes is very common among older adults. Diabetes that isn’t yet diagnosed or properly controlled can lead to increased urination, which can deplete water supply along with important minerals and electrolytes.

Risk Factors for Dehydration in Seniors

As we age, our bodies undergo certain changes that can increase the risk of dehydration. The risk is especially great for those over 65. Here are a few of the most common risk factors: 

Thirst — One of the body’s natural defense mechanisms against dehydration is the feeling of thirst. When we feel thirsty, it’s a signal to our bodies that we’re at risk of dehydration. However, as we age, our body’s thirst signal diminishes, causing older adults to have a more difficult time realizing they need water, because they don’t often feel thirsty.

Body Function — As we get older, certain organs may not work as efficiently. Our kidneys, which are responsible for removing waste and extra fluid from the body, become less effective as we age. This can lead to a fluid imbalance, causing more frequent dehydration. 

Medications — Many older adults have one or more chronic conditions that are managed by medications. Some medications, especially diuretics, can cause dehydration. In addition, older adults who take more than one medication should be aware of interactions that can lead to dehydration.

Cognitive Impairment — Decreased cognitive ability, which are symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, presents a greater risk for dehydration. Older adults who have problems with their memory may not remember to drink water or may not be able to interpret thirst signals properly. 

Decreased Mobility — Older adults who have difficulty moving on their own are at a greater risk of dehydration, because they may find it difficult to access water and other fluids. This is especially true if they depend on others to get it for them.

Common Symptoms of Dehydration in Seniors

It’s important to be able to identify the symptoms of dehydration and seek treatment as soon as possible. According to Healthline magazine, some common signs of dehydration in seniors include::

  • Dry mouth
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Sunken eyes
  • Decrease in urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Muscle cramping
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness 

As dehydration becomes more severe, older adults may exhibit these symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Trouble with moving or walking
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Fainting
  • Diarrhea or vomiting

Complications of Dehydration

If left untreated, dehydration can cause severe complications, especially for older adults. According to the Mayo Clinic, here are some of the most common complications linked to dehydration:

  • Heat injury. Our bodies lose a lot of fluid when perspiring heavily or exercising vigorously. If we don’t refuel our bodies with fluids, it can lead to a heat injury, including heat cramps or heat exhaustion.
  • Urinary and kidney problems. Untreated dehydration or repeated bouts of dehydration can cause urinary tract infections, kidney stones and, in severe cases, even kidney failure.
  • Seizures. Dehydration can cause a loss of electrolytes, which are responsible for sending messages from cell to cell. When electrolytes are out of balance, it can lead to muscle spasms or loss of consciousness.
  • Low blood volume shock. This occurs when low blood volume causes a drop in blood pressure and low levels of oxygen in the body. This complication can be life-threatening and should be treated immediately.

Preventing Dehydration in Seniors

Staying hydrated ensures proper body function and decreases the risk of complications linked to dehydration. If you’re wondering how to stay hydrated, the best way is to drink water and limit caffeine and alcohol. 

How to Drink More Water

Drinking water with every meal is a great place to start. In addition, many older adults may find it helpful to set a timer throughout the day reminding them to drink water or consume other fluids. However, drinking water isn’t the only way to stay hydrated. 

How to Stay Hydrated Without Drinking Plain Water

Eat more fruits and vegetables

Most fruits and vegetables have high water content, which means in addition to receiving nutrients, your body also gets refueled with fluids. Fruits like watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, and oranges are mostly made up of water; they also have added fiber and nutrients that help boost immune function and promote feelings of fullness. Vegetables like cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, and zucchini are also high in water and low in calories. You can find a full list of hydrating foods provided by Healthline magazine here


Instead of only drinking a glass of water, soup can help you consume more hydrating fluids. And adding in additional hydrating vegetables can make soups filling and nutrient-dense.

 Smoothies and Beverages

For some people, staying hydrated is easier when it comes in different forms. Smoothies made of yogurt, berries, and other liquids like milk or water, are high in vitamins and nutrients. Adding raspberries, lemons, and cucumbers to your water can add a subtle flavor, which makes it a tastier option than just plain water. Drink coconut water. According to, coconut water is naturally sweet and hydrating plus it includes several important nutrients.

Prioritizing Wellness at Maplewood Senior Living

Our Maplewood Senior Living communities work to prioritize the health of each resident in a variety of ways. Our culinary team knows how important hydration is for proper body function. That’s why fruits and vegetables with high water content and enhanced waters are made available at each meal. For another easy and delicious way to stay hydrated, residents can often find soups and smoothies on the menu. To learn more about these offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us

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Westport, CT 06880

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