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How To Get An Elderly Person To Drink Water

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Senior person drinking water

It’s important to make sure you’re drinking enough water, especially in hot weather or if you’re sick. Drinking plenty of fluids will help keep your body temperature regulated and prevent dehydration.

You may not realize that dehydration in elderly individuals is both more common than you would think and more dangerous than it might seem.

As an example, I have an elderly patient in my dental practice who just spent two weeks in the hospital because she wasn’t drinking enough liquids and she became dehydrated.

It’s mid-summer as I write this – a time when anyone can easily overheat and develop fluid loss through excessive sweating, so it wasn’t a surprise to hear that she’d spent such a long time in the hospital.

Let’s face it – we all need to drink more water, particularly in hot weather or if you are going through an illness. And, just letting you know that alcohol, soda and hot cocoa do not count as a fluid because they actually can contribute to dehydration.

Effects of Dehydration in Elderly

A crucial part of elderly care for family members and caregivers is to encourage seniors to drink more water. If they wait until they are thirsty before they get serious about drinking, dehydration has already begun.

Many seniors fall prey to dehydration. With their age, their ability to notice changes in body temperature typically decreases, as does their body water content, and they often experience a diminished thirst, which leads to reduced fluid consumption

Honestly, not drinking enough water is a very common problem among elderly adults. This article can help you understand why it’s important to encourage your elderly loved ones to drink more water.

One of the easiest and best ways to reduce an elderly loved one’s risk of developing major health conditions, is by drinking a proper amount of water. Some of these conditions include:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Kidney stones
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Rapid weak pulse
  • Slow metabolism
  • Obesity
  • Blood clot complications
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Organ failure
  • Decreased kidney function (in severe cases of dehydration)

When it comes to boosting immune systems, drinking plenty of water is key. That’s because dehydration can make it harder for your body to fight off infection.

Drinking water is a no-brainer when it comes to staying healthy. H2O helps build muscle because it carries more oxygen to your cells. It also flushes toxins away from vital organs.

If you are having a hard time getting an older person to drink enough fluids, try one a few of the following strategies to increase their fluid consumption.

Here is our video about the dangers of dehydration in the elderly:

What is the Fastest Way to Hydrate an Elderly Person?

Hydrating an elderly person quickly and safely involves several steps:

  1. Encourage Frequent Sips of Water: Encourage the individual to take frequent sips of water throughout the day. This can be more effective than drinking large amounts at once, which can feel overwhelming.
  2. Use Hydrating Foods: Foods with high water content, such as fruits and vegetables, can also contribute to hydration. Examples include watermelon, cucumbers, oranges, and strawberries.
  3. Hydration Supplements: Oral rehydration solutions, such as sports drinks or pediatric drinks (like Pedialyte), can be helpful because they contain electrolytes. However, these should be used in moderation due to their high sugar content.
  4. IV Hydration: In severe cases of dehydration, intravenous (IV) hydration may be necessary. This should be administered by a healthcare professional.

Remember, it’s important to monitor for signs of dehydration in elderly individuals, as they may not always feel thirsty even when their body needs water. Signs of dehydration can include dry mouth, fatigue, dizziness, and confusion.

Please consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

10 Strategies to Get Seniors Hydrated

1) Suggest Foods That Have a High Water Content

An article on Healthline says that the top fruits and vegetables that contain the most water are:

  • Watermelon
  • Strawberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Peaches
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit (NOTE: the FDA advises that, often, grapefruit and medications don’t mix. Be careful of grapefruit as eating it or drinking the juice too close to the time of taking medications can block the enzymes needed to break done the drug. This can potentially increase the amount of medication in the person’s system and can lead to an increase in side effects).
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce
  • Zucchini
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell Peppers
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage

Soup is another alternative to plain water for keeping older people hydrated. It not only provides nutrients but also serves as an excellent water substitute. The caveat here is to beware of pre-packaged or canned soups, which usually contain a high level of sodium.

Sodium is dehydrating and should be avoided by seniors who have high blood pressure because it can increase their risk of stroke, heart attacks, kidney damage, and congestive heart failure.

If you are using soup as a way to raise fluid intake in an elderly loved one, either make the soup from scratch yourself, so you can control the amount of salt that gets added to it, or buy them low-sodium soups and broths.

Read about 25 things that you should not eat or drink when dehydrated.

2) Offer Their Favorite Beverage

When an elderly person is not too keen about consuming plain water, you can replace it with their favorite beverage. This could include any unsweetened beverage, such as:

  • Real fruit juice
  • Herbal teas
  • Coconut water
  • Skim milk
  • Milkshakes and smoothies
  • Vegetable broth (again, be aware of the sodium content)

Some tips on how to make beverages more enticing:

  • Include bits of fruit or create a mocktail of sorts. Try to keep away from drinks with excessive calories, salt, sugar and anything that might contradict with medications. And, again, avoid grapefruit juice, which can conflict with certain prescription drugs.
  • Add flavoring to water like Nuun Immunity to encourage seniors to drink more fluids. Several kinds of flavors are now available in small squeeze bottles. Putting a few drops of cherry or grape flavoring into water may stimulate and elder’s thirst sensation.
  • Add lemon juice to water to make it more flavorful. If you do this for yourself or a senior loved one, please add it sparingly! Your favorite dental hygienist (me) wants you to know that lemon juice is highly acidic. Using it to flavor water can rapidly lead to tooth decay.

Please limit their intake of caffeine and alcohol, which act as a natural diuretic. Drinking a higher amount of these fluids might cause excessive water loss, resulting in elderly dehydration.

Pedialyte is also a good drink to help seniors replenish lost electrolytes.

3) Make Water Easily Accessible

Mobility issues could be one of the prime reasons for a reduced water intake in the elderly. For one thing, they may have trouble getting around well, so they may not want to bother with going back and forth to the kitchen to get a drink.

For another, they may be incontinent or have concerns about being able to make it to the bathroom in time, so they reduce their fluid intake as a way to avoid the problem.

Some tips on how to make it easier to access water:

  • Set up a tray with a container of water on a nearby table so they don’t have to get up to get the water.
  • Place cup holders in wheelchairs so water is readily available.
  • Give them water bottles with handles for easy grasping with arthritic fingers, as well as the ease of carrying water around with them as they move about their day.
  • Encourage your senior to drink a glass of water or their favorite beverage each time they take their medications
  • Some elderly people may require special utensils or devices for easy gripping of mugs and cups. If that is the case, you could try a lightweight cup with large handles for easy gripping, such as the spill resistant one in the picture below.
  • You could also try wrapping several large rubber bands around a mug or cup to make it easier to hold.
  • For seniors who have a hard time tipping their head back to drink, try something like a “nosey cup” . The large cutout on one side makes it easier to tip the glass forward so they don’t have to tilt their head back.

Cups With Large Handles

The Nosey Cups

4) Consider Fruit-Based Popsicles

In the summer, there is a higher chance for dehydration in the elderly. You can beat the heat while providing more fluids by making colorful ice pops, smoothie popsicles, slushies and tasty sorbet from fruit juice and water.

A quick, easy recipe for fruity ice pops is to fill a Dixie cup or other wax-coated cup one half to two thirds full with the elder’s favorite fruit juice.

Partially freeze the juice, and then insert a craft stick (popsicle stick) into the cup. Continue freezing until solid. Remove the cup to eat the treat.

You can even eliminate the cup and stick by freezing the fruit juice just until it is slushy, then scooping it into a bowl. Serve it with a spoon.

Adding pureed fruits or vegetables to the juice is an easy way to add fiber and foods to your senior’s diet.

Older adults are more prone to becoming dehydrated for a number of reasons, including a diminished sense of thirst.

National Council On Aging

5) Use Treats Like Hydrating Candy

Hydration candies may be a medical hydrating solution for seniors. Look for one that is comprised of an appropriate ratio of salt, sugar, and potassium.

This is essential for the formula to work effectively and keeping electrolytes in balance while optimizing fluid absorption in the body.

Medically proven hydrating candies are clinically known to prevent dehydration more effectively than plain water.

However, it is critically important to consult with a physician before offering hydrating candies to a senior with certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid, and congestive heart failure.

6) There’s Always Room for Jello

Jello is easy to eat, swallow and it’s 95% water. It may be a solution for your senior loved one to get some hydration in them.

Sugar free is one way to go depending on your senior’s health. Another are a new product called Jelly Drops which are an excellent way to boost hydration in someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

7) Use a Marked Pitcher to Designate How Much They Should Drink Daily

When I took care of my dad, I was always concerned about how much water he was (not) drinking.

We could literally spend all day together and he might drink 8 – 10 ounces of water, in spite of my prodding him to drink more. He would shrug his shoulders and tell me, “I just don’t get thirsty anymore.”

When he began having trouble with painful leg cramps that got him up at all hours or the day and night, I finally convinced him they could be a side effect of dehydration.

I am a runner, so I am well aware that my own legs cramp in the middle of the night if I haven’t drunk enough during the day.

To get him to drink more water, I dug out the large mug he had gotten during a prior hospital stay.

It was marked with ounces (32 oz.). I told him he could reduce the number of times he had leg cramps if he drank one full container daily, in addition to his regular cups of coffee in the morning and his lunchtime iced tea. (I know, they can be dehydrating, but at least he was drinking something!).

He now had a goal and could keep track of how much water he was drinking. As promised, when he increased his fluid intake, his cramps all but disappeared.

Marked containers let the senior see just how much they are drinking daily. Additionally, if you are caring for an elder and are worried about dehydration in your loved one, marked containers can help you keep track of how much water they are actually taking in.

Some, like the Hydr-8 water bottle even come with markings for the time of day, so an elderly person knows they should drink the morning level by lunchtime, and so on.

8) Offer Support Whenever Needed to Encourage Them to Drink More

As I mentioned above, the complaint of frequent urination and fear of incontinence are two of the main reasons that some elderly people reduce their water intake.

The mere thought of having an “accident” because they could not get to the bathroom in time could diminish a senior’s urge to drink voluntarily.

When it comes to elderly care, it is best to help them overcome their fear. Try encouraging them to use adult incontinence products rather than to avoid drinking water.

They might also experiment with drinking more water during the day, but limiting their intake of liquid immediately after their evening meal and through bedtime.

They may find that sipping small amounts of water all through the day might help, as well.

9) Electrolyte Drinks for Elderly

We suggest keeping a commercial rehydration solution handy all the time. This is the best way to improve electrolytes in a senior, which are lost when they become dehydrated.

You may be wondering is coconut water good for the elderly? Absolutely – in fact, unsweetened coconut water and tomato juice are both excellent sources of potassium and electrolytes that can help to replenish lost nutrients and fluid.

Another kind of electrolyte drink to try is something like Pedialyte or Ensure, which also contain needed electrolytes and potassium.

You might also try sodium free bouillon or Diet Gatorade. In the case of Gatorade or other sweetened drinks, we recommend the diet version (without added sugar) if the senior can tolerate it.

10) Try Jelly Drops

Pattinson’s Jelly Drops were invented by a young man in the UK whose grandmother had dementia. She suffered from dehydration. A scary trip to the hospital for her dehydration-related concerns spurred him to find a way to help her stay hydrated.

The result was Jelly Drops – a candy-like confection that contains both electrolytes and 95 percent water. They are low-calorie and low-carb, as well as sugar free and fairly natural.

Jelly Drops make it easy for seniors who have trouble remembering to drink (or who may have limited access to water) to enjoy a treat that helps them stay hydrated.

How Much Water Should an Elderly Person Drink a Day?

When it comes to elderly care, ensuring adequate hydration is critical. Studies recommend determining a senior’s water requirement based on different factors, such as their overall health and their gender, plus their activity level and environment.

Typically, it’s recommended to consume fluids in ounces equivalent to one-third of your body weight. So, if your weight is 150 pounds, your daily water intake should be around 50 ounces. (source: National Council on Aging)

What Are the Symptoms of Dehydration in the Elderly?

Dehydration symptoms can look different, depending on the degree of severity. For example, in the early stages, it can hide behind the crepey-looking skin that you see in normal aging.

Seeing someone with skin that “tents” when you tug on it (an early sign of dehydration) is going to look so similar to normal skin that it is easily overlooked.

If you are caring for a senior loved one, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the following signs of dehydration:

Mild Dehydration SymptomsSevere Dehydration Symptoms
Headache, fatigue, feeling unwellSunken Eyes
Dry mouth, dry cracked lips, and/or dry skinDizziness and confusion
ThirstRapid breathing, weak and rapid pulse
Rapid pulseIrritability
Reduced urine output or dark urineLow blood pressure
ConstipationNo sweating and/or no tears
Muscle crampsLoss of consciousness or delirum
Source: Integris Health

If you spot any of the symptoms or sign of dehydration or if your senior becomes confused, take them to their doctor, an urgent care facility, or to the emergency room right away. Untreated dehydration can be fatal.

Risk Factors for Dehydration

Dehydration in seniors can happen for many reasons. Some of the most common risk factors that can put older adults at higher risk for dehydration include:

  • diarrhea
  • vomiting or blood loss
  • certain medications
  • dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (because they are simply not aware of how little they are drinking). Seniors with cognitive decline may also not recognize a sensation of thirst.

If you or your senior loved one has any of these risk factors, be sure to take extra precautions to prevent dehydration.

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