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How To Get An Elderly Person To Drink Water

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Proper hydration is critical to the health of seniors. Elderly dehydration is a serious condition, which could threaten their well being.

In order to get an elderly person to drink more water, try to:

  • Suggest foods that have a high water content
  • Offer their favorite beverage
  • Make water easily accessible
  • Consider fruit-based popsicles
  • Provide a marked water pitcher to designate how much they should drink daily
  • Offer support whenever needed to encourage them to drink more

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

6 Strategies To Increase Fluid Consumption

Let’s face it – we all need to drink more water, particularly in hot weather or if you are going through an illness. And, sorry to say that coffee doesn’t count as a fluid (neither does alcohol) because it actually is dehydrating.

The most important strategy is simply a matter of ensuring that elderly people consume a sufficient amount of fluids (at least 1.7 liters every 24 hours).  – study published in JNHA – The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging

A crucial part of elderly care 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. But by increasing their fluid intake and keeping them hydrated, you can reduce an elderly loved one’s risk of developing major health issues, including:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Kidney stones
  • Rapid weak pulse
  • Slow metabolism
  • Obesity
  • Blood clot complications
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Organ failure

If you are having a hard time getting a senior loved one to drink enough water, try one a few of the following strategies to increase their fluid consumption.

1) Suggest Foods That Have A High Water Content

If an elderly person is not drinking the required amount of water, you could offer them foods that are high in water content. For example, try including more watery fruits and vegetables in their diet.

An article on Healthline says that the top 6 fruits 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).

In addition to adding more water-containing fruits to someone’s diet, you could also add needed fluids by increasing certain vegetables in their diet. The same Healthline article that talked about the fruits that were mostly water also listed the top 8 vegetables that contain the most water.

They are:

  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce
  • Zucchini
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage

(Yep, I was sort of shocked by those last two on the list. I feel like they are “drier” veggies, but both apparently contain about 92 percent water.)

Soup is another alternative to plain water for keeping the elderly 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.

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

You could also add a pop of color to make the beverages more visually appealing. Including bits of fruit or creating mocktail is a good idea to pique interest. However, 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.

It could also be helpful to add flavoring to water 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.

Speaking of adding flavorings, some people 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.

Most elderly people are on some type of medication with a side effect of decreased saliva flow and a dry mouth. Combine a dry mouth with acid (such as lemon juice) and it is a recipe for disaster. I have seen patients who either have rampant decay or have lost several teeth due to using lemon water to flavor their water. This can also happen when sucking on hard candies to moisten their mouth – please, always go sugar-free if you are going to do this!

Okay, off my soap box and back to adding a favored beverage to a senior’s diet…I have one more caution for you – 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.

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.

Regardless of their reasons, seniors still need to stay hydrated. In the case of mobility issues, try making water easily accessible to them so they are motivated to drink more. For example, you could 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.

Another idea is to encourage your senior to drink a glass of water or their favorite beverage each time they take their medications. However, do not expect them to gulp down that whole glass the way you might. Most likely they will sip the drink slowly, which will still help them stay hydrated.

It is important to note that 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 (click to check the price online).

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” (click to check the price online).

These cups have a large cut out to enable someone with difficulty swallowing, who has arthritis in their neck, or who has limited upper body movement to drink more easily.

The contoured hand grip makes it easier for someone with arthritic fingers and hands to hold the cup, too.

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.

5) Provide 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.

Like I did for my father, try providing your senior with a cup or other container, such as a pitcher, that has markings to indicate ounces or milliliters of fluid. 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 (click here to check the price online) 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.

6) Offer Support Whenever Needed To Encourage Them To Drink More

As I mentioned above, the fear of incontinence is one 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.

READ MORE: Hydration Products For The Elderly

Why Is Hydration Important in the Elderly?

We have covered ways to get seniors to drink, but now we will look into the reasons why it is so essential for them to stay hydrated.

Most importantly, dehydration is one of the most common causes of hospital admissions for the elderly. It is primarily the result of reduced water intake compared with the body’s water output. In short, the basic definition for when someone is dehydrated is that more water is coming out of the body than what is being consumed.

There are several reasons elderly adults are at a high risk of developing dehydration.

  • The prime reason is that the total body water reduces with age because the sense of thirst decreases. That means they are less likely to notice how much water they should be drinking. As a result, they have less water to lose before the stage of dehydration.
  • With the reduced sense of thirst, an elderly person may not experience the natural thirst response of the body.
  • Illness, incontinence issues, neurological disorders, and certain prescription drugs might be responsible for elderly dehydration. The loss of water induced by diuretics in the elderly is quite common.
  • Increased urination, as with diabetes, can cause dehydration, as can losing fluids through sweating and breathing. Seniors don’t have as much water in their systems as younger people, so they deplete their reserves quicker in hot weather.

Hydration For Elderly: Critical to the Overall Functioning of the Body

Water is essential for many bodily functions. Among them are:

  • Regulating heat and body temperature
  • Lubricating joints
  • Pumping blood to muscles
  • Boosting metabolism
  • Kidney function
  • Ability to fight disease
  • Cognitive functioning

Water is a Boost for Health

The cognitive ability slows down with age. However, by drinking enough water, you can keep both mind and body active and improve endurance. Even mild dehydration can adversely affect the brain’s ability to function properly.

In addition, dehydration can affect the functioning of kidneys, impeding the body’s ability to store both water and sodium, which carries electrical signals between cells. Dehydration can lead to kidney stones or urinary tract infections. If dehydration continues long enough, it can lead to kidney failure, which is life-threatening.

Lack of fluids can contribute to confusion and seizures. It can also lead to shock, due to low blood volume, which deprives organs and tissue of oxygen and nutrients.

When an elderly person stays hydrated, exercise could become a little easier for them than those who do not drink enough water. Proper hydration is essential for boosting endurance, stamina, and mental strength.

Hydration and Well Being

With age, appetite decreases and the risk of illness and disease increases. However, by ensuring that your senior takes in the appropriate amount of water every day, you can help improve their quality of life. This could help prevent short-term and chronic illnesses. Elderly hydration can also have a positive impact on their ability to fight disease.

Body Temperature Regulation

Water is necessary to regulate body temperature. With age, the body is not as efficient at regulating temperature as in youth. Seniors do not sweat much due to the dwindling of the subcutaneous layer of skin with age that works as a natural insulator. As a result, the body’s ability to regulate heat declines further.

With the rise in body temperature, elderly dehydration could further complicate things.  In hot weather, dehydration could further deter the natural cooling ability of the body. This could result in heatstroke and may prove fatal.

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.

In general, experts agree that a senior should consume at least 1.7 liters of water in a 24 hour period. This is about 6-8 glasses of water per day.

How Do You Calculate Fluid Intake For Elderly?

If you are concerned about dehydration in a senior, keep a journal to note how much fluid they are taking in. This will give you a better idea about their water intake. However, fluid consumption does not come down to drinking water alone. It could also come in the form of watery fruits and vegetables, smoothies, beverages, soups, and ice creams.

One good rule of thumb is to encourage them to drink water at small intervals or before they start to feel dehydrated.

Preventing Dehydration In The Elderly – More Ways To Increase A Senior’s Fluid Intake

If you have tried the tips above and are still wondering how to hydrate an elderly person, here are some more ideas to prevent dehydration.

  • Place cup holders in wheelchairs so water is readily available.
  • Position the patient properly so they can drink when needed. This is especially true for bedridden patients or those who have arthritis or other concerns that can keep them from being able to tip their head back far enough to drink easily.
  • Offer assistance and encouragement whenever needed.
  • Encourage seniors to wear lighter clothes in warmer conditions
  • 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.
  • Include drinks breaks in all playful activities.

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 bouillon or Gatorade as a way to increase electrolytes. In the case of Gatorade or other sweetened drinks, use the diet version (without added sugar) if the senior can tolerate it.

As I mentioned above, drinking sugary beverages can rapidly lead to tooth decay and other dental problems in seniors who likely have dry mouths. Decreased saliva flow combined with sugars and acidic candy and drinks makes for a dental nightmare.

Hydrating Candy For Elderly

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.

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 symptoms of dehydration:

Early Stage Dehydration Symptoms

Severe Dehydration Symptoms

Headache, fatigue, feeling unwell

Sunken eyes

Dry mouth, dry cracked lips, and/or dry skin

Dizziness and confusion

Thirst

Rapid breathing, weak and rapid pulse

Rapid pulse

Irritability

Reduced urine output or dark urine

Low blood pressure

Constipation

No sweating and/or no tears

Muscle cramps

Loss or consciousness or delirium

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.

Recovery From Dehydration In The Elderly

A senior’s recovery from dehydration depends on how sever their case was. Mild forms of dehydration can be treated with fluids containing electrolytes and potassium, such as the Gatorade, coconut water, or tomato juice mentioned in an earlier section of this article.

Severe dehydration, however, is life threatening and must be treated in the hospital. Remember I mentioned at the beginning of this article how my elderly patient had spent two weeks in the hospital recovering from dehydration? This is because she needed to have her fluids replenished via IV. She also has other health issues (diabetes and a heart condition) that she had to recover from, as well as needing to be monitored until her kidneys were functioning properly again.

Conclusion

As you can see, proper hydration is critical to sustain life. It is particularly important for seniors to drink enough water because older people already have a lower percentage of water in their body. Dementia, concerns about incontinence, lack of thirst signals, and other bodily changes that occur with aging all contribute to dehydration.

As with much in life, prevention is key. Help your elderly loved one drink more water so they can avoid the problems that come with even minor dehydration.

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