Dehydration: A Serious Health Risk for Aging Adults

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDJanuary 2nd, 2020

It’s no secret that health problems change and multiply as we age. Even if we stay active, eat right and do all the things we’re supposed to do, we find our bodies don’t quite function the way they once did. With these changes we may find health risks hiding in places we never expected. For many aging adults, dehydration is one of these unexpected risks.

Our bodies are made up of mostly water, so when we don’t have enough, it can cause all kinds of problems. When we’re young, most people don’t even need to think about hydrating on a day-to-day basis. We get thirsty. We drink some water. We’re good to go. But as we age, this normal cycle can change, and we can find ourselves getting dehydrated easier.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is that as we get older, our sense of thirst actually decreases. So waiting to drink water when we feel thirsty often means we’re not getting enough water to maintain our systems properly.

Another cause is kidney function. Our kidneys are the water filtration and storage systems for our whole bodies. You’re probably aware that not drinking enough water can cause kidney stones and other problems with our kidneys. But when they’re not functioning at full capacity, the opposite is also true: our kidneys can actually cause dehydration. Starting at around age 50, our kidneys begin to lose their ability to properly remove toxins from our blood, causing us to lose water more rapidly.

Finally, as we get older, we tend to increase the number of medications we take. Many of these medications, such as diuretics, blood pressure medication, and several psychotropic drugs, can cause us to lose water from our systems. So the more medications we are taking, the greater our risk of dehydration.

More than a Mild Inconvenience

We may think that dehydration is a minor problem, since when we were younger it was usually a simple thing to fix and didn’t cause lasting issues. Severe dehydration, common in elderly patients, is another story entirely. It can lead to all sorts of problems. We’ve already discussed kidney failure, but a severely dehydrated person can also experience brain swelling, low blood volume, increased stress on the heart, seizures, and even coma and death if untreated. In fact, a 2015 study in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine estimated that the fatality rate from dehydration in those 65 and older can be as high as 50 percent.

If you suspect you, or someone you care for, may be suffering from dehydration, it’s important to seek medical attention promptly. A visit to your local emergency room or urgent care is always an option, but it may be easier and more convenient to request a medical team to come to you.

Contact DispatchHealth, the healthcare delivery service that makes medical treatment for seniors, families, and busy professionals fast and easy. They’ll send a team of emergency care providers to your home, office, or wherever is most convenient. Once there, they can run electrolyte tests, discuss and evaluate possible causes, administer electrolyte drinks or IV fluids if needed, and ensure you’re on the way to recovery, all from the comfort of your home. And since they are able to spend an average of 45 minutes with each patient, you’ll have plenty of time to get all of your questions answered and make sure you understand exactly how to avoid dehydration in the future. Since they accept Medicare as well as most private insurance, it’s an affordable medical service for seniors facing dehydration and many other acute medical problems.


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