What Foods Help Hydrate Older Adults?

Hydration is serious business for the health and well-being of older adults. Dehydration is much more common than you may think for older adults, and the medical risks of dehydration can be significant. As a caregiver, staying on top of hydration and other caregiver duties can seem daunting. But with enough information and focus on getting your loved one enough fluid, you can prevent dehydration.

You probably think of drinking water as the primary method of staying hydrated. Water consumption is a significant part of staying hydrated, but so are foods with a high water concentration. As people age, their thirst mechanism starts to decline for reasons that aren’t entirely known. So, having alternatives to water will ensure that an older adult stays hydrated and healthy.

Why Hydration is Important to Older Adults

Dehydration, especially in hot and humid conditions like those found in Florida, is a significant health risk for older adults. Studies show that 37% of men and women aged 65 and older admitted to the emergency room presented with dehydration. Health consequences of dehydration can include:

  • Constipation
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Kidney problems
  • Loss of balance
  • Exacerbation of cognitive decline
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weakness
  • Pressure sores
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Mood changes
  • Shock

Dehydration is associated with six times greater risk of in-hospital mortality than those who are not dehydrated. So, as you can see, preventing dehydration before a medical problem arises is important to the safety and well-being of older adults.

Why Hydration in Older Adults is a Problem

If we know that hydration is a problem for older adults, why does the problem persist? There are several reasons for this.

  • Dehydration goes unrecognized
  • Misdiagnosis of dehydration
  • No one to regularly monitor intake
  • Lack of thirst mechanism
  • Poor nutrition
  • Inability to communicate thirst
  • Declining kidney function
  • Fewer water reserves as you age
  • Medication side effects

Management of hydration needs requires close and careful monitoring. If you suspect that you or someone else is dehydrated, make an appointment with your health provider as soon as possible. Some older adults may require IV fluids to recover.

Dangers of Dehydration on Those With dementia

If you have a loved one with dementia, the challenges of keeping them hydrated increases significantly, especially if they live at home. The brain is made up of water, and dehydration can cause the brain to shrink. Simply put: water helps everyone think better. For someone with dementia, anything that helps improve cognition is a benefit.

Dehydration in someone with dementia can be devastating, leading to disorientation, falls, and confusion. In the heat of summer, heatstroke can lead to even more severe repercussions. When someone can’t remember when they had their last drink of water or whether they had a meal, close monitoring is necessary to ensure proper hydration and nutrition. You can’t rely on a loved one’s recollection of water intake, and even the ability to communicate hunger and thirst may not be possible for someone with dementia.

Hydration Requirements for Older Adults

The most accepted hydration requirement recommended by medical professionals is 6-8 glasses of water daily. But there are mitigating factors to consider before adopting this rule:

  • Body weight
  • Altitude and climate
  • Medical conditions
  • Dietary constraints
  • Exercise habits

The best way to gauge hydration requirements for your loved one is to talk with their physician. Keep in mind that conditions can change. If your loved one is sick, they may need more water, or if they have trouble swallowing, their liquids may need to be thickened to prevent aspiration.

Assisted living communities can help ensure older adults get the hydration they need to stay healthy. If you are unsure if assisted living is right for you, learn how to recognize the telltale signs.

Recommended Foods for Hydration

In assisted living and memory care, nutrition and hydration are carefully managed as part of a thoughtfully planned dining program. Selections are reviewed and approved by a nutritionist and healthy and delicious dietary choices and offered daily.

As a family caregiver, you may not have access to all the foods and vegetables available at an assisted living community, but you can find many at the grocery store. Learn more about the water content of foods here.

To get started at home, here are a few fruits and vegetables with high water content:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Lettuce
  • Cabbage
  • Bell peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Peaches
  • Zucchini

Your loved one may not want to eat simple raw vegetables and fruit, so you may need to take a creative approach to make these foods appealing.

Creative Ways To Improve Hydration

As an older person’s appetite decreases, smaller, more frequent meals that are high in water content might be more manageable. Try and avoid high sugar fluids like fruit juices and sodas. And remember, caffeine is a diuretic.

Try these creative approaches to improve hydration in older adults:

  • Make a smoothie with veggies and banana – A simple blender can handle the duties of blending greens, carrots, bananas, and other fruit. Throw in some protein powder as well.
  • Create a fresh fruit salad – Fresh fruit salads with watermelon, cantaloupe, and strawberries are refreshing and will provide a hefty dose of water.
  • Use cucumbers or peppers for dips – Replace chips with fresh cucumbers and peppers for dipping hummus, guacamole, and yogurt-based dips.
  • Make a salad topped with fruit – A salad topped with strawberries, apples, oranges, or other fruit can liven up a bland vegetable dish.
  • Grill veggies – Grilling with some light olive oil and herbs make vegetables more appealing and easier to chew.

Managing the hydration and nutrition of an aging loved one can be challenging and time-consuming. The person-centered care of assisted living and memory care communities can ensure that your loved one stays hydrated and healthy through individually tailored meals and a hydration schedule.

Schedule a visit to Sonata Senior Living to learn more about our
person-centered approach to assisted living care.


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