Keeping A Senior Loved One Hydrated – How Much Do They Really Need

Due to some well-meaning national health strategies a decade or so, we’ve been taught that everyone absolutely needs to drink eight glasses of water a day, no more, no less.

Unfortunately, while modern health experts agree that good hydration is essential to living well, subsequent research has caused them to clarify this statement. In fact, there are some who say the “only eight glasses” claim should be considered a medical myth since it isn’t entirely accurate.

One key point that wasn’t initially included is that it’s OK to drink items that have water in them throughout the day, such as coffee, tea, or juices (preferably ones low in sugar.) This can be reassuring to people who prefer other tastes to that of plain water, and now won’t have to feel guilty about having their morning coffee instead of their first glass of water.

Even foods with water bases, like stews or soups, or fruits and vegetables with water, such as cucumbers, oranges, or melons, can provide additional fluids. Non-water based drinks, such as carbonated beverages, or energy drinks, do supply water but also may include more unhealthy ingredients like sugars or artificial flavorings, so are discouraged as prime fluid sources. Liquor can also increase the rate of dehydration.

Another key point is that everyone needs different amounts of water based on their age, metabolism, and physical condition. External conditions, such as the inside or outside temperature and any activity can also play a part in a need for water.

Some people may benefit from more amounts of water, while some people can function fine with less. Too much water actually can cause a different set of problems, as the body’s electrolytes could become unbalanced and organs become overloaded, causing a variety of catastrophic conditions.

But the original intent of the recommendation was simply to encourage people to drink more water in order to avoid dehydration and the negative symptoms that accompany it.

The general theory was based on encouraging drinking 1 ml of water for every calorie consumed. Since the average American meal is about 2,000 calories, this worked out to about eight 8-ounce glasses or 64 ounces through the day. But while this is a safe estimate for some, it doesn’t work for everyone, especially seniors.

Senior needs

Current health research shows the average adult male, age 20-70, benefits from about 125 ounces of liquid a day, and the average adult female, age 20-70, benefits from about 90 ounces. Harvard Health said this works out to 13 8-ounce cups for men or nine 8-ounce cups for women, but also cautions that variables such as body size, activity, and even where you live can change the recommendation (warmer climates require more water.)

But where seniors are concerned, more is generally recommended. How much more is up to the individual and their health care provider, but there is a general concern that seniors aren’t getting enough water, a deficiency which could impact their physical and mental health and cause serious, even life-threatening problems.

A 2019 study from the University of California Los Angeles School of Nursing showed an overall lack of adequate hydration in people age 65 and older.

This was often seen in emergency room visits where individuals often came in for other causes and didn’t recognize they were actually dehydrated.

Researchers put a study together where they would take urine samples from seniors in the community at different points of the day during a three-week period. They also examined younger adults for comparison purposes.

They were looking for a specific chemical that indicated underhydration and dehydration, and found it in a high number of participants, especially in the mornings. It was also higher with those who had limited mobility.

The National Council on Aging has also concluded that seniors need more water regularly for several reasons.

  • Their bodies are changing and have less water. This makes their skin drier and more sensitive to temperature. Although putting on lotion does help skin stay moist, it doesn’t help with thirst.
  • They may not realize they’re dehydrated until it’s too late.
  • They may think symptoms of dehydration are something else. Common effects are headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, dizziness, lack of coordination, and moodiness, which all could be thought of as related to other conditions – or part of life.
  • Medications may increase the risk of dehydration.
  • They might not feel hungry or thirsty as often since appetites change over time.

Get started

Increasing or at least adjusting your water intake can be done anytime, especially if you get family members or your provider involved in the discussion of how to accomplish this.

There are also several occasions through the year to get involved and learn more info. For instance, June 23 is celebrated as National Hydration Day. People are encouraged to visit the site to learn more.

World Water Week, which runs in mid-August, goes beyond urging people to drink more to encouraging them to protect water sources around the planet. Besides fueling humans, water is also an essential ingredient for industry, and many water systems are at risk from climate change, development, or environmental degradation.   

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