Hydration especially important for seniors

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  7/24/2008 7:02:17 PM

News You Can Use Release Distributed 07/25/08

Hot summer weather signals the importance of getting enough fluids to stay hydrated and prevent heat-related illnesses – especially for senior citizens. Older people are at high risk for developing heat-related illness at this time, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.

“The ability to respond to summer heat can become less efficient with advancing years,” Reames said. Studies show senior citizens may not drink sufficient fluids, and they also may be taking medications, such as diuretics for high blood pressure, which cause fluid loss.

Dehydration is the reduction of total body water and may be the result of limited intake of fluids and/or fluid loss. Reames says dehydration is the most frequent fluid and electrolyte disorder observed in long-term care populations. She notes that dehydration may increase the severity of an illness as well as the risk of death.

Symptoms of heat-related illnesses may include headache, nausea, muscle spasms and fatigue after exposure to heat.

“Both an individual's general health and lifestyle may increase the threat of a heat-related illness,” Reames said, adding, “Even small losses of body water can impair activity and judgment.”

The National Institute on Aging lists health factors that may increase risk of heat-related illnesses:

– Age-related changes to the skin such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands.

– Heart, lung and kidney diseases as well as any illness causing general weakness or fever.

– High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may increase their risk. However, salt pills should not be used without first asking a consulting doctor.

– The inability to perspire caused by medications including diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood-pressure drugs.

– Taking several drugs for various conditions. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.

– Being substantially overweight or underweight.

– Drinking alcoholic beverages.

Lifestyle factors also can increase risk, according to Reames. As examples, she cites extremely hot living quarters, lack of transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places and not understanding weather conditions.

According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, which sets dietary recommendations for nutrients and water, studies have found that most healthy adults are adequately hydrated. General recommendations are approximately 11 cups of total water from all beverages and food a day for women and 16 cups a day for men.

Although most people can meet fluid needs by drinking when thirsty and regularly consuming beverages at meals, Reames says prolonged physical activity and heat exposure will increase water losses and may raise daily fluid needs. In very hot weather, she adds, very active individuals often have daily total water needs of 6 quarts or more.

“It’s also important to remember that water needs vary from day to day,” Reames said.

Both beverages and food supply water. About 80 percent of people's total water intake comes from drinking water and beverages – including caffeinated beverages – and the other 20 percent comes from food. Solid foods may contribute about 4-5 cups of water each day. Many fruits and vegetables are 90 percent fluid.

According to the Food and Nutrition Board, drinking caffeinated beverages doesn’t lead to total body water deficits. These beverages can be consumed to help meet hydration needs along with other beverages and food.

To help you get enough fluids, Reames offers several hot-weather tips:

– Drink cool water because you absorb it faster and usually drink more because it tastes better. Plain water is a great fluid-replacer.

– Water also is found in all kinds of beverages and food, including juice, milk, soup, tea, coffee and soft drinks. In addition, juice, milk and soup offer other nutrients. Try drinking fruit juice diluted with plain water or sparkling water for a refreshing lift.

– Some beverages, especially those containing alcohol, may lead to loss of body water.

For related nutrition topics, click on the Food and Health link on the LSU AgCenter home page at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com
On the Internet: National Institute on Aging: http://www.nia.nih.gov/
Contact: Beth Reames at (225) 578-3929 or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor: Mark Claesgens at (225) 578-2939 or mclaesgens@agcenter.lsu.edu

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