By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Dehydration among the elderly is a prevalent, often overlooked and serious condition that can result in strokes and other severe health problems. Research indicates that about 60% of people are dehydrated at the time of a stroke, and that being well-hydrated at the time of stroke can mean a better recovery.
“It’s not clear why proper hydration at the time of stroke is linked to better stroke outcomes,” says Mona Bahouth, of Johns Hopkins Hospital, the lead researcher in a study presented at a 2015 international stroke conference. “It’s possible that dehydration causes blood to be thicker causing it to flow less easily to the brain through the narrowed or blocked blood vessels.”
Additionally, researchers, who recently conducted a review of multiple studies, found that dehydration in the elderly actually represents an independent factor for higher health care costs, hospitalization, hospital readmission rates, and death in the hospital; the results were published in a 2015 article in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging.
The term dehydration means a decrease in an individual’s total amount of body fluid. Signs and symptoms among the elderly, although often vague and even absent, may include confusion and disorientation, fainting, cardiac issues, drop in blood pressure, irritability, dry mouth, headaches, cramping in arms and legs, and abnormally less urination and defecation that may be darker in color.
My Viewpoint: I have frequently seen dehydration in older patients. Muscle cramping is common. The problem often turns up in times of high heat and humidity. The elderly are more susceptible than younger people. Reasons for this medically-challenging situation include a loss of normal thirst sensation, age-related water and sodium imbalances, and drinking too much coffee. Exacerbating factors are infections, physical and cognitive impairments, along with multiple medications, which can stress the physiology and raise the risk of dehydration.
What This Means to You: If you are a senior, don’t wait until you are thirsty. Staying well-hydrated is necessary for health and safety and it’s an important anti-aging strategy.
My Recommendation: Make it a habit to sip water throughout the day, even if you are not thirsty. Eat soups often, chicken is a favorite of mine. Soups contain not just fluid but plenty of electrolyte minerals, important for regulating body temperature and fluid balance. Purchase bones – full of minerals − from the meat department of your favorite market and make bone broth. If you exercise, replace the fluid loss from sweating with water. Take an electrolyte supplement – you can find the one I developed at Drsinatra.com. I don’t recommend the popular energy and fitness drinks because they often have added sugars.
- Frangeskou M, Lopez-Valcarcel B, Serra-Majem L. Dehydration in the elderly: A review focused on economic burden. J Nutr Health Aging. 2015;19(6):619-627.
- American Heart Association. Dehydration linked to worsening stroke conditions.
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