Summer Dehydration Risk for Seniors and Patients Taking Diuretic Medications
Updated: Nov 6
Who doesn’t love summer? If you enjoy hiking, swimming, or even just soaking up the sun’s rays with a glass of iced tea by your side, then summer is probably your best season of the year. As you while away the longer days working in your garden or floating on a lake, you may not realize that summer temperatures can be extremely dangerous. Warmer temperatures are directly linked to a higher risk of dehydration. If you’re over the age of 65 or take certain diuretic medications, it is crucial to keep track of your hydration when the climate heats up. In fact, hydration can be a life or death matter.
You may think hydration is a no-brainer but the body needs water to accomplish multiple, complex physiological objectives. For starters, water helps us maintain homeostasis or internal stability. When it’s hot out, a major job of homeostasis is regulating our body temperature so we don’t overheat. Also, water is a key component for the biochemical processes that keep us going. It takes nutrients where they are needed in the body to maintain organ and joint health. Water assists with blood circulation, joint cushioning, maintaining a stable heart rate, and digestion. Our bodies are thoroughly dependent on water; after all, just like watermelons, we are primarily made of water.
Dehydration can appear in many forms. Mild symptoms include thirst, headaches, dry or itchy skin, rapid breathing, dry mouth, and fatigue. As time goes on, however, dehydration can result in muscle cramps, fainting, cognition impairment, kidney failure, and even death. You can avoid these symptoms by cracking out your water bottle sooner than later.
The danger of dehydration increases with age because the sensation of thirst decreases with age. It’s often harder for the elderly to know when they need to drink more water or to realize when their body temperature is becoming too high. As we age, we tend to lose more muscle tissue and retain more fat; less water is stored in fat cells than muscle cells. Also, the body loses much of its fluid reserve capacities as we grow older. It can be hard for those with dementia to express their need for water. During periods of high heat, it’s important for the elderly to check their weight daily. A loss of two or more pounds within a 24 hour period could indicate undetected dehydration. The consequences of dehydration can be heat stroke, disorientation, and even loss of consciousness which can be deadly. In the U.S., 40 percent of heat-related fatalities occur among the elderly.
The heat stroke is a dangerous and potentially fatal condition that begins with symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, disorientation, and fatigue. Left untreated, it progresses to high body temperature, loss of consciousness, seizure, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, and death. By keeping hydrated and knowing the warning signs of dehydration, the risk of heat stroke can be mitigated.
Dehydration is a potential hazard at any age for those who rely on diuretics to keep their blood pressure in check. These medications are essential to prevent heart failure, liver failure, edema, and certain kidney disorders. Diuretics reduce blood pressure by extracting water, sodium and, in some cases, potassium from the blood stream. Therefore, those who take diuretics need to be even more careful about consuming an adequate amount of water every day and increasing their water consumption when exercising or during heat waves.
The amount of water you should drink depends on various factors such as age, height, weight, medications and health conditions. The old adage recommending “eight glasses a day” isn’t right for everyone. Experts advise that women consume about 2.2 liters of water each day and men should consume 3 liters. An alternative calculation is to divide your body weight by two and drink that number of ounces of water every day. It’s better to sip all day than gulp large quantities of water only a couple times during the day.
Consuming plenty of water may be the easiest course to reduce the danger of dehydration. However, plain water can be rather boring day after day. It’s easy to add flavor to water by mixing it with limes, lemons, mint, oranges, berries, cucumber, or other fruits. Coconut water is also a good option because it provides fluid and many of the minerals lost during exercise and hot weather. Taking a probiotic is helpful in improving digestion and absorbing water and nutrients. Caffeine drinks, including energy drinks, alcohol, or sugary drinks can have diuretics effects and should be avoided. To prevent overheating during the summer heat, try to wear light-weight, loose fitting clothing in light colors, along with a hat or other shade accessories.
So the next time you’re out enjoying a nice summer day (as you should!), remember why it’s important to keep yourself and your loved ones hydrated in the warmer temps. It may avert dehydration, and it could be a lifesaver.