Dehydration, Elderly

Dehydration is when you lose more fluids from the body than you take in. Vital organs such as the kidneys, brain, and heart cannot function without a proper amount of fluids and salt. Any loss of fluids from the body can cause dehydration.

Older adults are at a higher risk of dehydration than younger adults. As we age, our bodies are less able to conserve water and do not respond to temperature changes as well. Also, older adults do not become thirsty as easily or quickly. Because of this, older adults often do not realize they need to increase fluids to avoid dehydration.

CAUSES

  • Vomiting.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Excessive sweating.

  • Excessive urine output.

  • Fever.

SYMPTOMS

Mild dehydration

  • Thirst.

  • Dry lips.

  • Slightly dry mouth.

Moderate dehydration

  • Very dry mouth.

  • Sunken eyes.

  • Skin does not bounce back quickly when lightly pinched and released.

  • Dark urine and decreased urine production.

  • Decreased tear production.

  • Headache.

Severe dehydration

  • Very dry mouth.

  • Extreme thirst.

  • Rapid, weak pulse (more than 100 beats per minute at rest).

  • Cold hands and feet.

  • Not able to sweat in spite of heat.

  • Rapid breathing.

  • Blue lips.

  • Confusion and lethargy.

  • Difficulty being awakened.

  • Minimal urine production.

  • No tears.

DIAGNOSIS

Your caregiver will diagnose dehydration based on your symptoms and your exam. Blood and urine tests will help confirm the diagnosis. The diagnostic evaluation should also identify the cause of dehydration.

TREATMENT

Treatment of mild or moderate dehydration can often be done at home by increasing the amount of fluids that you drink. It is best to drink small amounts of fluid more often. Drinking too much at one time can make vomiting worse.

Severe dehydration needs to be treated at the hospital where you will probably be given intravenous (IV) fluids that contain water and electrolytes.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Ask your caregiver about specific rehydration instructions.

  • Drink enough fluids to keep your urine clear or pale yellow.

  • Drink small amounts frequently if you have nausea and vomiting.

  • Eat as you normally do.

  • Avoid:

  • Foods or drinks high in sugar.

  • Carbonated drinks.

  • Juice.

  • Extremely hot or cold fluids.

  • Drinks with caffeine.

  • Fatty, greasy foods.

  • Alcohol.

  • Tobacco.

  • Overeating.

  • Gelatin desserts.

  • Wash your hands well to avoid spreading bacteria and viruses.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver.

  • Ask your caregiver if you should continue all prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.

  • Keep all follow-up appointments with your caregiver.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have abdominal pain and it increases or stays in one area (localizes).

  • You have a rash, stiff neck, or severe headache.

  • You are irritable, sleepy, or difficult to awaken.

  • You are weak, dizzy, or extremely thirsty.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You are unable to keep fluids down, or you get worse despite treatment.

  • You have frequent episodes of vomiting or diarrhea.

  • You have blood or green matter (bile) in your vomit.

  • You have blood in your stool or your stool looks black and tarry.

  • You have not urinated in 6 to 8 hours, or you have only urinated a small amount of very dark urine.

  • You have a fever.

  • You faint.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.