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Headache? Muscle Cramps? Grab Some Water!

Dehydration can be especially dangerous for senior health—don’t let it happen to you.

Have you ever felt headachy, nauseous or experienced muscle cramps in hot humid weather? You may be experiencing dehydration, not harboring some flu bug. And the cure is drinking a glass of water or, better yet, several glasses over the course of each day for better senior health. Here are some signs of dehydration according to the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic:
  • Lethargy or exhaustion
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Low urine output or dark urine
  • Muscle weakness
  • Skin that doesn’t bounce back when pinched
  • Headache
Nutritionist Annemarie Colbin, PhD lists other adverse effects in her book, The Whole Food Guide to Strong Bones:
  • Asthma
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Joint and low back pain
  • Pain in general
An article by Dutch researchers in a recent issue of the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging outlines signs specific to the elderly. Some of them are subtle:
  • Low attention span
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dryness of the tongue and mucous membranes (which according to the article can, in turn, cause the patient to choke and/or make the patient difficult to understand)
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Falls
  • Fever with no obvious cause
Chronic dehydration can lead to adverse effects on senior health, some of them quite serious. According to a study from the Netherlands published in the British Journal of Nutrition, chronic mild to moderate dehydration has been associated with several disease states, such as fatal stroke.

Sip It, Don’t Skip It

The Schols article suggests drinking 1.7 liters (about 7 cups) of water daily. According to Schols, it is better for elderly people to drink small amounts on many occasions throughout the day rather than large amounts on only a few occasions. “Drinking large amounts all at once can cause the stomach to expand which, in turn, decreases one’s sense of thirst,” the authors state. The kinds of fluids consumed are also relevant, they add. Broth, fruit juices, tomato juice, milk and sport drinks are recommended. “Excessive consumption of alcoholic drinks and high protein supplements should be avoided, especially during periods of dehydration as these drinks actually dehydrate rather than hydrate,” the authors warn.

Why Seniors Resist Drinking Water

It is not unusual for elderly people to avoid drinking water. One of my students, a woman in her 70s, is a case in point. While spending the weekend with friends in their country home she didn’t want to wake her hosts by using the bathroom at night, so she stopped drinking water. She became dehydrated and passed out. She had osteoporosis, so she was lucky that she didn’t break a bone. Another student who complained of constant dizziness also refused to drink water because she didn’t want to use the restroom. She was astonished to learn that dehydration can lead to dizziness and fainting. None of her doctors had ever mentioned this, she said. As a Yoga teacher for the older adults, I urge my students to drink water. In hot, humid weather you can lose a lot of fluid without realizing it, so during a recent heat wave, I gave everybody another reminder. The following week, one student came over to me after we finished class and said she drank more water after hearing me talk about it. “I feel so much better,” she said.

Make Drinking Easy

Sadly, doctors who conducted a study about dehydration in the elderly, reported in the British journal Age and Ageing, reported: “One-quarter of older patients in our hospital are unable to take a drink. The commonest reason for this is the inability to reach their cup [because it was too far away from them]. This is a particular problem for patients confined to bed,” authors Branwell Spencer, Martin Pritchard-Howarth, Thomas Lee, Catherine Jack wrote. So if you visit a bed-ridden friend, be sure to fill their cup often, and keep it within their reach.