This has been a particularly warm summer in Seattle. In July there were 11 days in the low to mid 80’s and so far this month we’ve had seven days above 85 degrees with the 3rd and 4th reaching into the 90’s. Thankfully the temperature seems to have gone back to our normal mid to high 70’s but we are reminded how important it is to understand and respond to the potential danger that high outdoor temperatures can pose to our elderly family members and clients.
The most common health problem that occurs during hot weather is dehydration and older adults are particularly at risk. According to Hydration Tips for Seniors on the AgingCare website, this is because “With age, our body’s ability to conserve water is reduced. This can make it more difficult to adapt to things like fluctuating temperatures. Additionally, the sense of thirst diminishes with age. By the time someone actually feels thirsty, essential fluids could already be extremely low.”
In addition, “Certain medical conditions and medications can affect a senior’s ability to retain fluids. Individuals with dementia may forget to eat and drink, and in more advanced stages may have difficulty swallowing. Drugs like diuretics, antihistamines, laxatives, antipsychotics, and corticosteroids can cause frequent urination that depletes water and electrolytes. Furthermore, seniors who experience incontinence often purposely refuse or limit fluids in order to avoid accidents.” Since dehydration can have various causes, it is important to remember that it can occur even when the weather is cool.
Signs of Dehydration
It seems strange, but thirst is not usually a helpful indicator of dehydration, because a person who feels thirsty may already be dehydrated. Initial signs to look for include:
- Decrease in urine output or dark or amber-colored urine
- Slack, dry skin that stays folded when pinched
- Irritability dizziness or confusion
- Muscle cramps
- Dry mouth and tongue
- Sleepiness or lethargy
- Rapid breathing and heartbeat
- Weak pulse
- Cold hands and feet
Try not to wait until thirst kicks in before drinking or offering water. A simple rule to remember is to balance input with output. In other words, if a person is sweating or urinating more frequently, then their fluid intake should also increase.
Drinking water is the best way to prevent or combat dehydration, but sometimes water may be unappetizing. Follow these tips to make drinking water more appealing:
- Keep a glass of water by the bedside or a favorite chair
- Serve decaffeinated tea in a pretty teacup and saucer
- Add a slice of orange or lemon to a glass of water
- Serve water in a wine glass with a strawberry in it
- Add a small amount of juice to water to add flavor and color
- Make popsicles from diluted fruit juice or lemonade.
- Offer warm chicken, beef or vegetable broth
The AgingCare article points out that cups and glasses can also affect a senior’s desire and ability to drink. “Someone with low vision might be able to see an opaque, brightly colored cup more easily and therefore drink from it more often. Particularly resistant seniors may find a beverage more appetizing if it is served in a pretty glass or with garnish. For example, try serving a healthy smoothie in an old-fashioned soda fountain glass with a piece of fresh fruit on the rim.
Sometimes specialized drinkware may be necessary for those with swallowing difficulties, tremors, arthritis, motor skill problems, and muscular weakness. Cups with two handles, a no-spill lid, a built-in straw, or ergonomic features may simplify the process and prevent spills.”
Foods Can Be Hydrating, Too
Many foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, also contain water. The list below includes those fruits and vegetables with, particularly high water content. If drinking rather than chewing is preferred, any or all of these nutritious foods can be made into a smoothie using a blender or food processor.
- Bell Peppers
- Iceberg Lettuce
Remember that any drink containing caffeine is not a substitute for water. While fruit juice is a source of liquid, it also contains a lot of sugar. Using the above suggestions, have a tea party or happy hour with your client and make it a fun time for both of you.