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As an Elder, I have the wisdom to know when I’m thirsty!

Are you sure about that? The truth is, as you get older it is common for your sense of thirst to diminish. So if you’re over 60, and think you’re drinking less water than you used to, it’s probably not your imagination.

Humans can only survive a few days without water, so it makes sense that thirst is a basic survival instinct; everyone gets thirsty. But the ability to sense thirst decreases as people age making it important for people over 60 to hydrate even if you don’t feel thirsty.

How do we lose our sense of thirst?

Let’s begin with an example of how thirst works to help explain the process. Typically, as you eat a bunch of salty snacks, you think to yourself, “I’m so thirsty! I need something to drink right now!” The reason that happens is that the salty snacks raise your blood sodium concentration too much, and your hypothalamus (located in your brain) puts out a strong feeling of thirst. So, what happens? You drink something. Easy.

However, as we age, the message from our brain that’s supposed to notify us when we’re thirsty loses strength, and we don’t get the message resulting in dehydration.

Why does dehydration matter for older people?

Dehydration can cause serious complications like urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and kidney failure. It can also be responsible for an extremely serious, and sometimes life-threatening complication, low blood volume (hypovolemic shock) which can cause a drop in blood pressure and a drop in the amount of oxygen in your body.

Signs of dehydration include

  • Little or no urination
  • dark or amber-colored urine
  • Dry skin that stays tented or folded when pinched
  • Irritability, dizziness, or confusion
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Weak pulse
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Constipation
  • Dry Mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Difficulty walking

How can you increase hydration?

Most of us don’t want to travel back in time to the 90s when the “cool crowd” went everywhere with a disposable plastic bottle of water in their hand or their bag. (We all know how bad those plastic bottles are for the environment.) Also, drinking plain water all the time can get a little boring. Luckily, there are lots of new and improved options, starting with some cool, reusable bottles. Some of those bottles can infuse natural flavors into the water inside, and even keep their contents cold or warm for hours.

In addition to drinking out of a cool-looking, eco-friendly container, you may want to consider some of the other things that can help you to increase your daily intake of fluid.

  • Infuse water with frozen or fresh fruit and berries to add flavor. You can find lots of recipes like this one online.
  • Broth and soup provide both hydration and nutrition
  • Experiment with temperature. Change things up with your drink by adding ice or warming it up.
  • Use brightly colored glasses, mugs or water bottles for older adults with low vision
  • Offer adaptive options such as cups with two handles or water bottles with straws if necessary
  • Place water bottles with fresh water in multiple locations around the home
  • Include foods with high water content such as cucumbers, oranges, or watermelon

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The SEARHC Crisis Help Line, 1.877.294.0074, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to residents of Southeast Alaska.