In Oklahoma, late summer comes with extreme temperatures. As hot temperatures rise, so do the number of dehydration cases in the ER.
Hydration is important for overall health. Your body needs water to regulate body temperature, maintain blood pressure and eliminate waste. Without water, our bodies can become dangerously dehydrated and sick.
Dehydration is harmful for all age groups, but it’s especially common and dangerous in seniors. If you’re a senior or provide care for one, it’s important to monitor dehydration symptoms and to know how to avoid it.
Why seniors are at higher risk for dehydration
“Dehydration in seniors is a very common problem,” says INTEGRIS physician Ashley Muckala. “There are many causes for dehydration, including medication, fluid restriction prescribed by a healthcare professional or it can be a side effect of other illnesses.”
As people age, their sense of thirst can sometimes decrease or seemingly go away. This doesn’t mean they don’t need water; it means they don’t feel thirsty as often. This causes them to drink less water than they need and can lead to dehydration.
Kidney problems also cause dehydration. As bodies age, the kidneys can stop processing fluids efficiently. This can lead to more trips to the bathroom and fluid loss.
Medications can be another possible cause of dehydration. Many seniors take regular medication for other medical conditions and can be unaware of dehydration as a side effect. Dr. Muckala recommends speaking with your doctor if you suspect your medications are causing dehydration.
Signs of dehydration aren’t always obvious and can range from mild to severe. Symptoms can include the following:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Dry mouth
- Loose skin or skin that doesn’t return to normal after pinching
- Urinating less often than usual
- Muscle cramping
- Fast heart rate
- Drop in blood pressure
What to do if you’re dehydrated
Be ready to act if you notice signs of dehydration. Some symptoms are mild, like nausea and headaches, but dizziness, confusion and cramping can indicate a more serious problem.
“If caregivers of a patient suspect dehydration, they need to seek medical attention right away,” Dr. Muckala says. “Patients can be seen at the office of their primary care provider if they can get in fairly quickly for an appointment.”
Dr. Muckala recommends more serious action if dehydration is severe.
“Professional care is necessary when the patient is not able to consume or keep down liquids. If intractable vomiting or diarrhea is present, this may be a situation where medical intervention is necessary.”
In this scenario, the patient should immediately seek treatment at an emergency room or an urgent care facility.
Summer isn’t the only season when dehydration is a risk. Unfortunately, many seniors are at risk for dehydration throughout the year. Even in winter, it’s important to drink a healthy amount of water throughout the day.
Eight glasses a day aren’t necessary for everyone, but you need to drink an appropriate amount of water for your body weight and level of activity. Consult with your primary care doctor to determine the correct amount.
Dr. Muckala recommends drinking water and snacking throughout the day. She also advises against spending extended periods of time in the heat.
“Avoiding extreme weather conditions and staying out of extreme Oklahoma heat will help prevent dehydration,” Dr. Muckala says.
Remind yourself or seniors in your care to drink water even if they don’t feel thirsty. If mobility is an issue, try to keep a full glass of water near a favorite chair, bed or where you spend the most time each day.
If you suspect dehydration, don’t hesitate to call your primary care doctor or visit the nearest emergency room.
Ashley Muckala, D.O. is a Norman physician board certified in both internal medicine and hospice/palliative medicine. She graduated from Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, completed her residency at Kettering Medical Center in Ohio and completed her hospice/palliative care fellowship from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. She treats patients over the age of 16.
“I may seem a little reserved at first, but my style is to let the patient talk, telling me why they’re there, as well as their past experiences before I start asking questions. My job often involves a balancing act of managing many medications and diagnoses to achieve the best quality of life for a patient. I love when a patient gets better, and then they come back to tell me they were able to attend their son’s wedding or their granddaughter’s dance recital or go on that vacation to Hawaii they have been planning.”
Dr. Muckala lives in Norman with her husband and two sons. In her spare time, she enjoys running, yoga, gardening and a good book.