Older People Need to Stay Hydrated—Here’s How

Our thirst can wane as we age, even though our bodies need us to keep drinking
December 19, 2019 Updated: December 19, 2019
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Dehydration is associated with a higher risk of ill health in older people, from infections or falls to being admitted to the hospital. But an appetite for food and drink can diminish as people age, which means older people need to drink regularly, even when they’re not thirsty.

Older women who don’t have to restrict their fluid intake for medical reasons, such as heart or kidney problems, are advised to drink eight glasses a day. For older men, it’s 10 glasses.

The easiest way to drink more fluids is to build on existing habits. For instance, drinking more fluid as part of everyday routines, such as when taking medication or at mealtimes. If you build this up gradually in small steps, eventually it will become part of your routine.

Keeping up your fluid intake shouldn’t be a chore, just drink more of what you enjoy. A common myth is that you have to drink water, but tea, coffee, and juices all count. And in some cases, even beer can be hydrating when consumed within recommended guidelines.

Thirst is seen as a reliable indicator of when you need to drink, but the perception of thirst can blunt with age. An over-reliance on thirst alone to reach for a drink may increase your risk of dehydration, so it is important to be mindful of drinking fluids regularly even when you’re not thirsty.

Another myth is that avoiding drinking can help urinary incontinence. However, limiting fluid intake makes incontinence worse because it reduces the bladder’s capacity.

Many people don’t believe that drinking too little can affect their wellbeing or cause serious health consequences. But older people, in particular, are more vulnerable to the effects of drinking too little due to age-related physiological changes, drug side-effects, or both.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people aged over 65 continues to rise across much of the world, particularly in developed countries.

Fear of Fluids

Until now, little research has been done on the views of hydration of elderly people who don’t live in residential or care homes. To redress that, we recently conducted a study to assess older people’s views on hydration. We conducted one-to-one interviews with 24 people aged over 75 who lived at home in London, England. We also interviewed nine caregivers.

We found that perceptions of the importance of hydration were greatly varied. While interviewees were somewhat aware of public health messages on hydration, many misconceptions existed, such as how much and what to drink.

Some of the greatest barriers to getting the optimal fluid intake was an overwhelming fear of incontinence and difficulty getting to the toilet. In such cases, it is important to drink plenty of fluid to not exacerbate the problem. Opting for decaffeinated tea and coffee can help, as can reducing alcohol intake.

Avoiding constipation by drinking plenty and getting enough fiber in your diet can also help a weak bladder. It can be useful to plan trips ahead of time, locating the nearest toilet and planning for bathroom breaks.

Another challenge identified in our study was a difficulty using kitchen equipment and cups as participants got older, such as the kettle becoming too heavy. If you notice that everyday items are becoming more difficult to use, it is important to discuss this early on with friends, family, or caregivers and explore options. A lightweight kettle, a straw, or tailored cups can make all the difference and are widely available.

Our study concluded that the optimal way of supporting older people to drink more was to acknowledge and address individual barriers to drinking and build on everyday habits, such as drinking with medications and encouraging drinking as a pleasurable, positive experience.

 is a general practitioner and clinical research fellow. This article was first published on The Conversation.