Over the last several months, I had several times where I returned to my early nursing training and started a chat with someone about the importance of adequate hydration. There are some key health problems that can be created by not having enough fluid intake. Many of these can be easily remedied by simply increasing the quantity of drinks in a person’s daily intake.
So, lets start with how would you know that a person is dehydrated? I call it the pinch test. If you look at the back of your hand, simply pinch the skin between your knuckle and wrist with the forefinger and thumb of your opposite hand. A well hydrated person will see the skin immediately go back in place. This is especially important for our aging adults. You will notice that if you do the pinch test, a person who is dehydrated will have skin that stays folded or takes a longer time to return to normal. As you would expect, this is not the appropriate way to assess dehydration from a medical or diagnostic perspective. But it is a good way to do a check at home. Other signs of dehydration include dry cracked lips, dry mouth and dry skin. More significant signs associated with dehydration are dark-colored urine (instead of what it should be: the color of pale straw), strong-smelling urine, dizziness, increased heart rate, muscle cramps, crying without tears, confusion, irritability, fatigue, headaches and fainting. If your elderly family member is having these concerns do seek guidance from their medical professional. If you think it may be associated with hydration, have them drink some water and see if they improve.
Water is essential for many body functions including temperature regulation, proper bowel movements, lubricating your joints, skin lubrication, blood oxygenation, cognitive function and so much more. This simple description of the importance having enough fluids on board can assist us to better understand care of our aging adults and issues like confusion, urinary tract infections and constipation. People become dehydrated when their body does not have enough water to sustain these vital functions.
Dehydration is certainly more common among seniors. For whatever reason they may not drink enough water, or simply have a decreased sensation of thirst. One common misconception is that drinking water later in the day leads to more frequent trips to the bathroom at night and consequently more risk of falls. However, being dehydrated also increases the risk of falls. So, it is important to find the right balance.
There are some simple solutions! Encourage water as a thirst quencher. Keep a pitcher of ice water and a glass close at hand, or have an insulated mug filled with fresh cold water. Juices and soups count as fluid intake! Make popsicles from frozen juices, or flavored water. Canada’s Food Guide has some creative suggestions to making water an attractive beverage: add fresh or frozen fruit including blackberries, raspberries, chopped apple or melons; tear or crush some herbs or spices such as basil, mint, cinnamon or vanilla; or try combining both fresh fruit and herbs! Other recommended choices include drinking white milk, almond or soy beverages and unsweetened tea or coffee. Limit drinks that include too much sodium, sugar and unsaturated fats.
Staying well hydrated is another step to living a longer healthier life!
Joanne Rose is a retired nurse with 35 years of experience in public health, health promotion and protection. She lives off grid in Stephenville, on her farm with her husband Tom, and is lucky enough to be surrounded by family. Health perspectives shared in this column are meant to inspire and inform, but not to replace the advice of your regular healthcare professional.