Dehydration in Your Senior Loved One
World Water Day was March 22, a worthy time to speak of the drawbacks of dehydration, especially when it comes to your senior loved one in San Francisco and elsewhere. Of all the things that are going on during end of life care, dehydration may take a back burner to other more pressing concerns. Truth is, dehydration is a real danger in the elderly. Dehydration sets in when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, says the Mayo Clinic, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to perform its normal functions. Anyone can become dehydrated, but it’s especially dangerous for young children and senior adults.
The gravity of the situation is compounded when that senior adult is also going through end of life care. The immune system is already compromised, and so many medications and treatments may be involved that can add to the effects of dehydration. Older adults naturally possess a lower volume of water throughout their bodies, and may have conditions or take medications that boost their risk of dehydration exponentially. Even minor illnesses, such as infections that affect the lungs or bladder, can result in dehydration. It can happen quickly, which is why you as the caregiver, as well as your caregiving team, should be on top of fluid intake.
Moderate dehydration can be remedied with fluids taken immediately, but with severe dehydration, immediate medical treatment may be required.
Tricky part is, many terminally ill patients voluntarily refuse food or oral fluids. Should the patient’s autonomy be respected? Many believe yes, and that forced feeding or aggressive rehydration isn’t wise. Emphasis should be placed, instead, on renewed efforts for pain control and other types of comfort care. This can be stressful and sad for caregivers who are watching their loved one become increasingly dehydrated. Traditionally food and water are considered fundamental to existence. The offering of food and water to loved ones is a way we express love and care. It feels cruel not to offer water, yet people close to death usually stay more comfortable if dehydrated, as hydration can cause suffering.
Vomiting and diarrhea can occur in those who are given artificial hydration through IV tubes, for instance. Sometimes doctors make the decision to withdraw feeding and water, but only when the patient no longer feels hunger or thirst and has become very close to death.
What about those who are entering end of life care and are not yet close to death? Hydration is still a necessary component of the patient’s treatment.
Symptoms of Dehydration
Be on the lookout for these signs of mild or moderate dehydration in your senior loved one, according to WebMD:
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Little urine output
- Dark yellow urine
- Dry, cool skin
- Muscle cramps
Be on the lookout for these signs of severe dehydration in your senior loved one:
- Failing to urinate
- Very dark yellow urine
- Extremely dry skin
- Rapid heartbeat
- Fast breathing
- Sunken-looking eyes
- Lack of energy
- Confusion or irritability
- Fainting spells
Dehydration: A Common Problem Among Seniors
A common and serious condition in older adults, dehydration can cause severe problems and even result in death if left unchecked.
For seniors, dehydration can cause several major health problems, according to Daily Caring, such as:
- Kidney stones
- Blood clots
- Rapid yet weak pulse
- Lowered blood pressure
Staying hydrated is especially critical if your senior loved one is taking medications, because many of them require fluids to work properly. How much should they be drinking? In general, you should take one-third of the person’s body weight in pounds and make sure they drink that number of ounces of water. Your loved one’s caregiving team will know how much water to provide, taking into account their physical condition, weight and medications.
Benefits of Hydration
There are several benefits to being properly hydrated, for young and old, such as:
- Less constipation and less need for laxatives
- Lower risk of falls
- Lower risk of UTIs (urinary tract infections)
- Reduced risk of colorectal cancer
- Lower risk of bladder cancer in men
Remember, older adults also have a muted perception of thirst, which means they may not know they need to drink something until they are already pretty dehydrated. In end of life care, they are relying on their caregivers to ensure they get what they need. Stay on top of these requirements and communicate frequently with your senior loved one’s care team.
Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice
If your loved one is facing end of life care, seek out Pathways Home Health and Hospice for help. Our compassionate caregiving team, comprised of nurses, doctors, nutritionists and more, will ensure your loved one gets the sustenance they need during this time. To learn more, contact us today at 888-978-1306.