We all know drinking water is very important, especially in the hotter days of summer and early fall.
Different experts will vary on the exact amount needed for daily consumption and good health, but how do we know we are not getting enough water on a daily basis? In other words, how do we know if we suffer from dehydration?
One doctor told me to gently pull up on the skin between my knuckles and my wrist, and if it drops back down immediately, I am good to go. But if it stays up, then I might be getting dehydrated. This is known as an elasticity test, and although it’s not very technical, my doctor says it will give a pretty good picture of my water level.
Seniors tend to become more dehydrated than other people because of several factors. I know my personal water retention ability has lessened and the urge to go is greater than when I was a younger woman. I am encouraged to sip water throughout the day, as opposed to slugging down a huge glass all at one time.
The effects of too little liquid have shown that dehydration increases the risk for constipation, urinary tract infection, respiratory tract infection, kidney stones and medicine toxicity. Studies also show dehydration can be a factor to an increase in falls, which may lead to otherwise unnecessary stays in hospitals or rehabilitation facilities.
A good rule of thumb for seniors is anywhere from five to eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid (preferably water) per day, although everyone’s needs are different. Seniors who drink at least five glasses of water experience lower rates of numerous issues, including coronary heart disease.
Those who have a tendency to get dehydrated should avoid, or at least decrease, their intake of diuretics like coffee and tea. Minimize alcohol and high-protein drinks, especially in large quantities, because they also have a diuretic effect. This leads to a greater loss of body fluids, which can cause or exacerbate dehydration. Get much needed protein in food like chicken, fish or cottage cheese.
If water is not appealing, try liquids like juice or flavored water. Avoid sodas and drinks with little or no benefit.
I drink water all the time now, but that was not always the case. I started by pouring half juice and half water, slowly increasing the water until there was no juice at all.
Foods like lettuce, fresh fruits and vegetables are high in water and can make up for some of the liquid you don’t drink. Fear of incontinence can diminish the urge to consume liquids, so having more during the day — as opposed to right before bed — makes sense.
Early warning signs of dehydration include fatigue, dizziness, constant thirst, dark urine, headaches, dry mouth or nose, dry skin and muscle cramping. Risk factors heighten possibility of dehydration and they include, but are not limited to: swallowing disorders caused by stroke, Parkinson’s disease or dementia, obesity, seniors over 85 years of age and bedridden patients. Watch for extreme diarrhea, vomiting or excessive sweating, which all can lead to dehydration issues.
People who take five or more prescription medications or have five or more chronic diseases are also at risk.
Once it is determined you may be dehydrated, get plenty of rest and drink water. Consume in small amounts over a 24-hour period of time until you feel back to normal. This is for minimal to moderate symptoms.
Have some pretzels, nuts or salted crackers, which help regulate the electrolytes. We sweat out salt when dehydrated, so these can help replace it. Low levels of electrolytes are common with dehydration and can be replenished by having sports drinks and glucose water. Ask your physician what the best course of action is for you.
In severe cases, fluids may need to be transmitted into the body intravenously. If you feel these symptoms and are not sure how serious they may be, don’t take a chance. Call your doctor, visit urgent care or go to the hospital.
Water is by far my favorite beverage these days. It’s the best thirst quencher, is healthy and even better — it’s calorie free!
Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with several local senior care and advocacy groups. Reach her at email@example.com.