Aging Parents, Thirst, Dehydration, in the Heat of Summer, or Any Time

Dehydration is dangerous, we know this but for most of us it isn’t that real because we’re not old and when we get thirsty, we take a drink. We all learned at some point how essential water intake is for life, but tend to forget unless there’s a drought or we’ve experienced dehydration in an aging parent.

Because of the extreme heat and humidity in certain localities (climate change? global warming? whatever) and because their brains and bodies seem NOT to trigger their thirsty signal very well, we need to remind ourselves again to make certain all the older people we care about are drinking enough. Hot summer days are one thing, but ordinary days are equally important.

(Note:  although caffeinated drinks [tea, coffee, soda] are commonly believed to add to dehydration–along with alcoholic beverages–see September 2017 comment w/ links below).

Since elders don’t experience thirst as intensely as those younger, the dehydration risk to aging parents is more prevalent in hot, humid weather. That said, not drinking enough water in normal weather–especially for those taking medications–  can cause problems as Mother, in her late-80’s learned.

She’d been hospitalized after a bad fall in a dark movie theater. She was never a big water-drinker and no one watched or realized she wasn’t drinking enough water with the pills given her in the hospital. Result: some pills only partially disintegrated. Tiny particles lodged in her throat causing serious irritation and necessitating treatment. Bottom line: taking pills with plenty of water is important. And sometimes a heavier fluid (milk, juice) makes successful swallowing easier.

I’ll conclude with a technique to check for dehydration in this coming Tuesday’s post. Until then, stay cool–and help aging parents stay cool.
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Related: Lack of Strong Thirst Signals Leads Elderly to Drink Too Little,” from a study at the U. of Melbourne, and the comments below provide food for thought.

The work of Egan and his team of scientists from Melbourne and San Antonio, Texas, is one of many studies of thirst in the elderly, said Neil E. Rowland, a professor of psychology at theUniversity of Florida and a thirst researcher. “These studies have had two different results: That elderly people experience less thirst and consequently drink less fluid, or that elderly people experience just as much thirst but still drink less,” he said.
“This paper is important because it’s really the first study that looks inside the brain to try to find out what might be different” about the thirst mechanism in older people, Rowland said.
The study is also interesting because it looked at the cingulate cortex, a region of the brain that hasn’t been studied widely by thirst researchers, he added.
While the findings are important to basic science, they don’t have immediate practical consequences, Rowland said. “The authors suggest controlled drinking programs so that [older people] take more drinks across the day. That doesn’t follow from this particular research. Those sorts of programs have been around for a long time.”
Scheduled drinking isn’t always successful with the elderly, added Barb Troy, a clinical assistant professor of dietetics at Marquette University. Anyone who works with the elderly will say that if you prod them to drink beyond their limit, that can be counterproductive, she said.
“They don’t ambulate as well. In the middle of the night they don’t want to be running to the bathroom, and that catches up with them.”


4 thoughts on “Aging Parents, Thirst, Dehydration, in the Heat of Summer, or Any Time

  1. I only have a question. I am 75, female and have been experiencing exhausted, being tired most of the time. Could dehydration be part of this cause??

    • Because exhaustion can come from many causes–some emotional, some physical–I suggest you check with your doctor. It’s no fun feeling tired all the time. Good luck.

  2. Pingback: Dehydration and The Bellt - The Rice Post

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