Getting the elderly to drink enough fluids, particularly water, is often a challenge. Water is the fluid of life and the second most important nutrient we need behind oxygen. Humans can live up to a month without food, but will not usually make it a week without water. Among other things, water acts as a transportation method for nutrients, removal of toxins and waste, and helps regulate temperature as well as our cardiovascular system.
For years I have touted the benefits of drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day. After all, that is what healthcare professionals have always recommended. You clean your outer body with water, does it not makes sense to also clean your insides with water as well?
The body is 60-75% water, depending on the amount of muscle, fat, age and which authority you are referencing. I instructed all my home health patients on the need to drink, drink, drink water unless there were contradictions such as heart and kidney problems. I strongly encouraged them to make the majority of their allowed fluid intake water rather than sodas, juice, tea, etc.
I recently read where a doctor decided to see what studies had been done on how much water we should drink. Not surprisingly, there are no conclusive studies proving the claimed benefits of drinking water. So, I have stepped back to rethink my position and now the focus is on all fluids, not just water.
As we get older we tend to drink fewer fluids. There are many reasons for this including declining mobility and pain making obtaining water and toileting difficult, incontinence or dribbling, and lack of thirst, to name a few. Many have the false belief that drinking less will mean fewer trips to the bathroom, in actuality it can and often will lead to bladder irritation and infection, resulting in frequent urination that is often painful.
This decline in fluid intake leads to constipation, fatigue, dry mouth, decrease urine output, poor skin integrity, low blood pressure especially when standing, and an increase risk for falls. If untreated the complications become worse and can lead to death.
Because of their propensity for drinking less, many of our elders live in a state of mild dehydration, a state that can worsen rapidly with even a slight decrease in fluid intake or an increase in fluid loss such as with illness, increase activity or increase in heat. What many caregivers don’t know is a little increase in fluids can often make a big difference in how an older person feels and how their body’s function.
Here are some suggestions for increasing fluids:
- Schedule fluid intake between meals. Water, tea, juice, tomato juice, V8 juice and milk are better choices than soft-drinks and coffee, which can actually contribute to dehydration.
- Join them. We are social creatures so use that to your advantage and drink with them. Truth be told, you probably could use a little more fluid yourself.
- Have tea time with a snack. Invite friends over.
- Non-alcoholic happy hour, complete with fancy glasses and umbrellas.
- Offer a full glass of water with medications.
- Keep something to drink nearby.
- Place drinks in attractive glasses and water pitchers. Use straws.
- Use a blender and make treats using fruit juice, fresh or frozen fruit and ice, sodas and fruit juice, milk shakes (to which you can add whey protein for a nutritional boost), and yogurt smoothies.
- Popsicles, gelatin, and sherbet.
- Fruits such as grapes, melons, kiwi, pineapple, strawberries are all high in water content.
What we eat and drink is mostly habit. Caregivers should start making small, consistent changes that will improve their chances of success. If you have found something that works, please share it with all of us.