The hot summer weather allows for loads of fun outdoor things to do. You can take a trip to the beach. Enjoy long walks on warm nights. Play with your grand kids on the lawn. However the summer heat also brings about a particularly grievous issue for seniors who like to stay active: dehydration.
Around three-quarters of the human body is made up from water. So when you don’t get enough liquids, feeling thirsty may be the least of your issues. Dehydration can be serious even life threatening for people of all ages. But for seniors exercising in the summer heat, dehydration can be even more hazardous.
It’s important for older individuals to understand the signs and risks that come with a lack of proper hydration. More importantly they need to learn the steps to take to prevent it from happening in the first place.
What makes seniors more susceptible to dehydration?
There are a number of causes why older adults are more at risk of getting dehydrated in the hot weather. As we get older your body’s physical ability to be aware of and respond to thirst is lessened. Because of this, older people do not feel thirsty as easily as younger people do. Thirst is one of the earliest signs of dehydration, so by the time you start feeling parched it may already be too late.
Additionally, as we age, our body’s ability to conserve and regulate fluids is reduced. This can make it more challenging for the elderly to adapt to things like changing temperatures and rise in body heat from exercise. Particularly in the summer weather when you’re going from a cool air conditioned home to the balmy outside temperatures. Furthermore because of this lessened ability to balance fluid levels it can take longer for dehydration symptoms to recede even after drinking water.
These factors combined with certain medical conditions and medications can affect a senior’s ability to retain much needed fluids.
What are the signs of dehydration in older adults?
When you’re exercising or engaging in outdoor activities it’s important for seniors to be on the lookout for signs of dehydration. Compared to younger folks the indicators of a hydration issue in seniors are very similar.
However, for elders, the symptoms can present more subtly and more abruptly. Sometimes dehydration warnings might be minor but if you notice any of these signs it’s important for older people to take a break, cool off and most importantly take a drink of water.
Here are the symptoms of dehydration to look for:
- Dry mouth
- Often, this is the first signal that you’re not getting enough water. Your body is telling you that it’s time to take a drink.
- Muscle cramps
- Dehydration is only one potential cause of muscle cramps, but it’s worth considering if you get start cramping while exercising, particularly in hot weather. Cramping can be a sign your muscles are overheating and need some rest.
- Headaches are one of the first signs of a lack of hydration most people notice. However when you get to this point you’re probably at a more severe stage of dehydration.
- Dry skin that stays folded when pinched
- This can be a bit more difficult to notice in an elderly person, so a good way to check is to lightly pinch the skin on the back of the hand; if it doesn’t bounce back right away, it’s a good sign of dehydration.
- Rapid breathing and heartbeat
- The body tries to maintain the amount of blood pumped by the heart to the body. So when the amount of fluid in the body is decreased due to dehydration your body compensates by increasing your heart rate. Check to see if your heartbeat is faster than normal even after you catch your breath.
- Weakness and feeling lethargic
- As the body increases blood flow to your organs to cool them off you will likely feel weaker and more lethargic. Look for noticeable mobility issues, like difficulty walking and lowered strength.
- Low blood pressure
- While this probably isn’t doable to check mid workout, when you finished check to see that your blood pressure is at normal levels.
- Weak pulse
- In addition to feeling weak, dehydration can also cause a weaker pulse because of the lower blood pressure.
- Cold hands and feet
- Again because your body constricts blood flow when you’re dehydrated this can cause your hands and feet to feel cold to the touch. When you’re in the hot weather cold hands can be an indicator that you should drink more water.
- Irritability, sleepiness, dizziness, or confusion
- Even mild dehydration affects cognition, concentration and the general ability to think clearly and control mood. So if you notice this in yourself or your workout buddy it may be time to take a drink of H2O
- Little or no urination
- If you’re urinating about half as often as usual after significant physical activity, it can be a sign of dehydration.
- Dark or amber-colored urine
- A yellow, more cloudy color means your body need water. A darker yellow, amber color means your body needs water. If your pee is orangish yellow or darker, you’re likely severely dehydrated.
If you think that you or someone else is severely dehydrated get liquids and seek medical attention right away.
How do you prevent dehydration in seniors?
Just about everyone knows how important drinking water is for stopping dehydration in older adults. However, it can still be tough to drink enough. Preventing dehydration in seniors is easy with these simple steps you can take to avoid serious health issues in addition to providing you a better quality workout.
- Drink water before, during and after activities
- According to the American College of Sports Medicine’s hydration guide, active individuals should drink a minimum of 16-20 oz of liquids 1 to 2 hours before being active outside. It’s harder to be dehydrated when you already have some fluids inside you.
- While exercising and moving around outdoors, you should imbibe 6 to 12 oz of liquids every ten to fifteen minutes you are outside.
- When you are done working out, drink around 2- 3 cups of H2O to replace what you lost through sweating. Just because you’re done exercising doesn’t mean you’re not still at risk for dehydration. Especially for seniors.
- Drink more water in general
- When you increase your H2O intake consistently your body is able to better maintain fluid levels. But remembering to drink enough can be a tough. It’s easier to stay quenched when you have a readily available source of chilled water. You can keep a Brita filter in the fridge or you can install a bottle less water cooler for your home that provides an endless supply of refreshing cold water.
- Don’t wait to hydrate
- Feeling parched is usually the first sign of a hydration issue. But because it can take longer for seniors to feel thirsty, you may already be at a higher level of dehydration than you think. When you feel the first sign of thirst, get some water in you right away.
- Take a bottle of water with you when you go out
- The best way to stay quenched is to keep H2O by your side. Before you step outside to workout, be sure to fill up a bottle of water. Don’t take too heavy of a bottle though because you’ll need to carry it around outside. Hydration belts are also a great method to carry water without throwing off your balance.
- Check you medications
- Some common medications for older folks can cause dehydration including antihistamines, blood pressure medicines, diuretics and laxatives if you are on any of these medications be sure to drink extra fluids.
- Spice up plain water
- If you’re the type of person who finds it hard to drink enough water during the day try making the water itself more interesting. You can infuse the water with fruits or mint leaves for a refreshing taste. You can also use 0 calorie flavor enhancers to make your water easier to drink.
- Drink sports drinks during exercise
- Sports drinks like Gatorade, PowerAde, and All Sport can give you a needed energy boost during your activity. They are designed to rapidly replace fluids and to increase the sugar (glucose) circulating in your blood. This can help prevent dehydration, however these sports drinks often contain large amounts of sugar, so drink them sparingly
- Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages before exercise.
- While they are liquids, alcohol coffee, teas and colas are bad for dehydration in both seniors and athletes. These fluids tend to pull water from the body and promote dehydration. If you don’t have other options available these beverages can still help.
- Have an exercise buddy
- It’s sometimes tough to notice when you are displaying indicators of dehydration yourself. With an exercise buddy you can watch each other for the signs.
- Take a break
- If you feel yourself slowing down or weakening, it’s important not to push yourself too hard. Take a seat before you overheat. There’s no harm in pausing your fitness to catch your breath and take a sip of water.
Whether you’re working out inside or outside, it’s very important for both older men and women to drink lots of water in the summer. Dehydration can be very dangerous for seniors while exercising put it can be prevented!
Dara Grzesh is a New Jersey personal trainer who specializes in fitness for seniors and post-physical rehabilitation. Her company, Be Healthy Personal Trainer focuses not on weight loss, but rather on functionality, preventing injuries and maintaining lifelong health and activity.