Almost everyone remembers their grade school science teacher reminding them that the human body is comprised of approximately 60 percent water.
We're also told that drinking fluids is good for us, to keep all our body systems working properly.
As we age, however, what we may not realize is that some of the medications we take, or conditions that we have, may predispose us to dehydration, and dehydration is a major reason why many seniors are hospitalized each year.
When we sweat, urinate, or even breathe, we lose moisture from the body which, if not replenished, can lead to such problems as constipation, urinary tract infections, dry skin, low blood pressure, disorientation, electrolyte imbalances, and even heart problems. People with chronic health conditions are particularly at risk as are those with temporary infections such as colds or sore throats.
Some older people fail to drink or eat enough if they live alone, if they have a disability that makes cooking difficult, or if they suffer from depression.
Many seniors are also unaware that it isn't only during hot weather, or while exercising, that people need to stay well hydrated. In the winter, when heat and warm clothing are the norm, people can still sweat more than they replenish from drinking, and some older people tend to feel cold all the time, thus they push up the thermostat and bundle up in sweaters even indoors, which can impact hydration.
Severe complications of not having enough moisture in the body can include kidney failure, changes in mental status, shock, or coma, so it's very important to understand how to keep well hydrated, and how to recognize the symptoms of dehydration.
Symptoms of dehydration can include dry mouth or sticky feeling gums, dizziness, less urine output (or dark or strong smelling urine), constipation, headache, dry skin, or increased thirst. Skin may lose its ability to spring back to normal after it's been pinched up into a "tent."
Those who feel at risk for dehydration should speak to their physician and get some advice on how much water to consume daily. Consuming too much water can be harmful for some people as well, leading to a condition called hyponatremia. This is more prevalent in infants and athletes than in elders, but still something to consider if someone is trying to change a habit of not having been drinking enough.
The kind of fluids one drinks is important, too. Some of the beverages people take in each day are not all that beneficial when trying to increase hydration.
For example, caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea, and soda, can actually have a dehydrating effect.
It's better, when trying to boost hydration, to drink water, and eat enough servings of vegetables and fruits that contain high water content. Leafy green vegetables, melons, tomatoes, broccoli, coconut water, cucumber, beets, carrots, and celery are all good choices when aiming for proper hydration.
For more information on dehydration, visit WebMD (http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/tc/dehydration-topic-overview).
Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann's local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.