Would you know if your loved one was dehydrated?
Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in. The elderly
are at a particular risk of developing this dangerous condition due to a diminished thirst sensation, and the natural changes in water/sodium balance that occurs as the body ages. People with Alzheimer's disease often take anti-psychotic drugs and cholinesterase inhibitors which can cause the body to lose fluids. Many other medications such as diuretics, antidepressants, oxygen and blood pressure medications also add to the risk of body fluid loss. Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating and high temperatures during the summer months are other common causes of dehydration.
It is important for the caregiver to learn the signs and symptoms of dehydration. Prevention and early detection of symptoms will help avoid emergency room visits and potential life threatening organ failure or other conditions associated with dehydration.
Symptoms of dehydration usually begin with thirst and can quickly progress to more severe symptoms. The key to avoiding dehydration is revention. However, even with the best efforts a loved one can become dehydrated. It is important that the caregiver is able to recognize the symptoms and know when to seek the appropriate medical care. Below is a list of symptoms that the caregiver should watch for:
Mild - Moderate symptoms
- Complaints of thirst or a dry mouth
- Lips and tongue may appear dry and cracked
- Fatigue, decreased activity, muscle weakness
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Decreased urinary output or urine that is dark yellow with a strong odor
- Very dry skin ( A useful tool for assessing dehydration is the Skin turgor test. Using the forefinger and thumb gently pinch the skin on top of the person's hand, their forearm or forehead, if the skin remains in a tented position for 3 or more seconds there is a good chance that the person is dehydrated.)
Moderate - Severe symptoms
- Confusion and/or irritability (In a person with Alzheimer's disease a sudden increase in confusion or change in behavior)
- Sunken eyes
- Does not urinate in an 8 hour period
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of dehydration can be tricky as the signs and symptoms can be the same as side effects of medications and other medical conditions that are common in the elderly. Symptoms can go unoticed until they are severe and require hospitalization. The caregiver can help avoid dehydration by following the preventive measures listed below:
- Offer small drinks often and encourage fluid intake even if the person is not thirsty (The person with Alzheimer's disease may forget to drink.)
- Offer a variety of fluids
- Leave a fresh glass of water near the chair that the person sits
- Include foods that have a high water content such as fresh fruits, vegetables, jello, ice cream, popsicles or yogurt
- Increase fluid intake during hot weather and times of illness
Dehydration can be prevented most of the time, however sometimes even when under the best care dehydration can't be prevented. Illness, swallowing problems, heat and difficulty getting the person to drink are all unavoidable issues that can result in dehydration.
*Some medical conditions contraindicate an increase in fluid intake, please check with your loved ones physician before increasing fluids. This article is meant to provide information only, it is not meant to replace the advise from your health care provider. If symptoms develop please see a health care provider for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
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