Your senior parent or loved one likely drinks mostly plain water, but did you know that water alone cannot restore electrolytes? To stave off dehydration, you might reach for rehydration drinks. Is Gatorade a good option for the elderly? Or is Pedialyte the better option?
Pedialyte is the recommended beverage of choice for the elderly. Gatorade is a sports drink that’s meant to restore electrolytes after exercise, but Pedialyte can renew electrolytes lost from exercise and other means, such as sweating, diarrhea, or fever.
In this article, we’ll talk further about what’s in Pedialyte versus Gatorade and which beverage seniors should drink. We’ll also talk about how to recognize dehydration symptoms in the elderly so you can ensure your senior stays healthy!
Table of Contents
What Are Electrolytes? Do Seniors Need Electrolytes?
We’ve already used the word several times, but exactly what are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are essential minerals with an electrical charge. If you dissolve an electrolyte in water, it acts as a conductor of electricity.
Examples of electrolytes are magnesium, phosphate, chloride, potassium, calcium, and sodium. When ingested, electrolytes allow for fluid absorption, which is how your body can rehydrate itself.
What do electrolytes do? They fuel your body for many of its everyday functions, such as contracting and relaxing muscles as well as maintaining your blood pressure.
Electrolytes also allow your body to build tissue, clot your blood (when needed), maintain your blood pH, and send signals throughout the body.
Electrolyte loss occurs in everyday life (and even more during a hot day in the summer months). Anytime you work up a sweat, you’re losing electrolytes. That’s true also of having diarrhea and/or vomiting.
If you don’t restore your electrolyte balance, you’ll experience a variety of unpleasant side effects, including reduced energy, muscle cramps, and changes in blood pressure.
Severe dehydration is serious and needs to be treated immediately – especially in a senior. The best way to rehydrate anyone who has severe dehydration is get them to the emergency room for intravenous fluids.
If you just drink water, it does not sufficiently restore electrolytes, as we touched on in the intro. Although water can rehydrate you, it doesn’t have electrolytes unless it’s tap water (which isn’t healthy for you).
Beverages such as Pedialyte and Gatorade do contain electrolytes, as do other sports drinks. Interestingly, despite the hype, although coconut water does contain some electrolytes, “it’s no more hydrating than plain water,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Lots of foods have electrolytes as well. Here’s a list:
- Fruit such as raisins, bananas, oranges, watermelon, strawberries, and avocados
- Vegetables like olives, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, kale, and spinach
- Meat such as veal, chicken, turkey, and fish
- Dairy sources like yogurt, buttermilk, and milk
- Soy sources such as tofu and soybeans
- Nuts like peanuts and almonds
- Lentils such as beans
So, do seniors need electrolytes? People of any age require electrolytes, but especially older people. Their rate of dehydration might be higher than younger adults.
In part, this is because elderly patients don’t have as much fluid reserves as younger people. Plus, dehydration in an aging parent can be compounded because medications for certain medical conditions cause increased urination which translates to loss of body fluids.
Also, many elderly people also limit their fluid intake due to urinary incontinence. Lastly, mobility issues can mean that some seniors aren’t able to get around their home easily, so they don’t get enough water or other fluids during the day.
Can Seniors Drink Pedialyte?
Pedialyte is a beverage found on most grocery store shelves. You might have drunk it when you were sick and at risk of dehydration. As your elderly mother or father gets older, Pedialyte is a beverage you should consider adding to your shopping list again.
According to Abbott Nutrition, the makers of Pedialyte, the ingredients in the original, unflavored Pedialyte are as follows: citric acid, dextrose, water, sodium chloride, potassium citrate, and sodium chloride.
The Pedialyte Fruit flavor has the same ingredients with the addition of FD&C yellow No. 6, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, and artificial and natural fruit flavor.
Pedialyte Grape features the base ingredients from original Pedialyte plus FD&C Blue No. 1, FD&C Red No. 40, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, and artificial grape flavor.
Besides the food coloring, there are no questionable ingredients in Pedialyte. It’s been a safe and trusted beverage choice for more than 50 years.
Pedialyte is safe for consumption in children as old as one year, with no upper age limit.
Unlike Gatorade and other sports drinks, which are designed for adult athletes, you don’t have to be athletic to drink Pedialyte.
The Pedialyte website recommends their beverage for any source of dehydration, including from exercise, travel, high heat, food poisoning, stomach flu, or any other malady.
Is Gatorade OK For Seniors?
Gatorade is a beverage invented in 1965 by University of Florida College of Medicine students at the request of Ray Graves, then coach of the Florida Gators football team. Gatorade’s origins then have always involved sports and athletes, and that’s still primarily what they’re known for today.
According to grocery brand Martin’s Foods, the Gatorade Fruit Punch flavor includes ingredients like caramel color, glycerol ester of rosin, Red 40, natural flavors, modified food starch, monopotassium phosphate, sodium citrate, salt, citric acid, dextrose, sugar, and water.
We should note that the ingredients in Gatorade will vary from flavor to flavor. With more than 30 varieties of Gatorade, different food colorings and flavorings are added.
Like Pedialyte, Gatorade will restore electrolytes. However, if you compare the two, Gatorade lacks the electrolytes that Pedialyte does. This Greatist article compares the different product lines of Gatorade and Pedialyte to prove definitively that Pedialyte products contain more electrolytes.
On top of that, Pedialyte is recommended for very young and very old age groups, both of which might lose electrolytes more readily than healthy adolescents and adults. Gatorade is designed for athletic types aka able-bodied adults.
That doesn’t mean older adults like your senior parent can’t drink Gatorade, but there’s another reason to avoid it: the sugar content.
Even if you selected a fruit-flavored version of Pedialyte such as grape, according to Pedialyte’s website, eight fluid ounces of Pedialyte contains only six grams of sugar.
Nutritionix states that in a serving size of Gatorade that’s also eight fluid ounces, the sports beverage has 13 grams of sugar.
That’s the thing about Gatorade, though. It’s typically sold in large, 12-fluid-ounce bottles. That serving size contains 21 grams of sugar plus 21 grams of added sugar. Harvard T. H. Chan cites guidance from the American Heart Association or AHA that 24 grams of sugar is the recommended daily limit for adults.
One bottle of Gatorade would put you at nearly that limit.
Considering all that, we’d say that Gatorade is not the best beverage choice for seniors.
It’s fine if your senior is mostly healthy and needs electrolytes immediately. However, for those with diabetes and other conditions in which they should restrict their sugar intake, sugary drinks like Gatorade are a poor beverage choice.
What Are The Signs Of Dehydration In the Elderly?
As promised, let’s delve into the symptoms of dehydration in seniors. Some of these symptoms might not seem like your senior parent or loved one is dehydrated, which is why it’s even more important that you pay attention to their state.
This first sign of dehydration is one that’s easy to miss, especially if your senior parent already has dementia. The confusion that’s caused by dehydration can seem sudden and usually needs to be taken in conjunction with the other symptoms.
Does your senior parent seem to be having a hard time getting up? Are they swaying on their feet or struggling to stay upright? Without enough electrolytes, one’s blood volume decreases, which reduces blood pressure. It’s that change that causes wooziness.
Although electrolytes aren’t an energy source themselves, they do encourage the body to function and stay energized. Once electrolyte levels deplete, fatigue and even exhaustion can follow.
We mentioned earlier how electrolytes dictate when your muscles contract and relax. Without enough electrolytes to manage muscle behavior, the muscles can painfully contract, leading to cramping and muscle spasms.
Drop In Blood Pressure
This goes back to what we discussed in the paragraphs above. A senior’s reduced blood volume due to electrolyte depletion causes their blood pressure to go down. The drop in blood pressure can be moderate to severe.
Accompany your senior to the bathroom to check the color of their urine. Is the pigment darker yellow or even brownish? The color of urine is more concentrated in someone with dehydration.
Hydration keeps the skin supple, even in older individuals (although to a lesser degree). Without that water in the skin, all plumpness disappears, leaving the thin eye skin looking even thinner, darker, and sunken.
The body needs hydration to produce saliva, or a dry mouth can result.
What Is The Best Hydration Drink For The Elderly?
When an elderly person is at higher risk of dehydration, the beverage you give them can make all the difference. What are the best electrolyte drinks for elderly dehydration?
Pedialyte truly is the most reliable and better option for the elderly as well as sick kids, younger people, and people of all ages. It has less sugar, which is important for older folks, and it has more electrolytes than Gatorade products.
For those seniors with low blood sugar and dehydration, introducing more sugar into their rehydrating beverage isn’t a bad idea. Some experts recommend fruit juices, but those can be sugar bombs, not to mention the juices often contain a lot of carbs.
Milk is a good choice to rehydrate, as it’s rich in potassium, sodium, and calcium. However, for those with lactose intolerance or other issues processing dairy, drinking milk would only make things worse.
Even though the taste of Pedialyte is not the best to many people, it should still be the drink you reach for when your senior parent is feeling dry-mouthed and dizzy.
Dehydration affects older adults more often and more severely, which is why you must always have some rehydrating beverages on hand. Pedialyte is the best choice for seniors since it’s low in sugar and high in electrolytes.
Please remember that dehydration can be deadly, so if you notice any signs as discussed in this article, get your senior away from all sources of heat and rehydrate them immediately.