By Elana Craemer, M.D., family medicine
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the way people live everyday life has changed, especially for seniors. Seniors are a vulnerable population that should continue to practice social distancing and wear a face covering when leaving the house for essential errands.
As you age, your body may not pick up on warning signs that are crucial to your health. It’s important to know these warning signs during the summer, especially the signs of thirst and dehydration.
As the weather begins to warm up, it’s especially important for seniors to make sure you are taking the appropriate precautions to stay cool and hydrated. Some of the leading cases for hospital visits in those older than 60 during the summer are dehydration and heat stroke. If dehydration is untreated, it can turn into heat stroke, so it’s important to know the signs, ways to prevent them, and how they can negatively affect your health and body.
Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluids than it has taken in. This means there is not enough water and other important fluids in your body. As you grow older, your brain reacts slower to the sense of thirst. This decreased sense, combined with age-related memory loss, can make it especially difficult to remember to drink water throughout the day. Anyone can become dehydrated, but it is particularly dangerous as you age.
Untreated dehydration can be life-threatening, so it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms. These include:
- Infrequent urination;
- Increased breathing rate ;
- Light-headedness; and
- Muscle weakness.
If these primary signs are overlooked, severe dehydration can occur, which can lead to other heat-related health issues. Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency and occurs when your body overheats due to overexertion during physical activity or prolonged exposure to heat, usually in combination with dehydration. Over time, your body becomes less efficient at regulating its temperature. Even a short walk in the heat can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions.
Common symptoms include:
- A throbbing headache;
- Hot or dry skin;
- A body temperature higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit;
- Decreased sweat and tear production;
- A rapid heartbeat of more than 90 beats per minute;
- Difficulty walking;
- Bright-yellow urine;
- Confusion; and
Tips to Stay Hydrated
Seniors, you should be aware of your water intake and how often you are exposed to the sun. It’s helpful to have scheduled drinking times to ensure you are drinking enough water throughout the day. You also should carry a water bottle everywhere you go to make sure you always have access to fresh water or hit small goals throughout the day.
Staying well-hydrated helps prevent serious complications, which is why it’s important to take the proper precautions. You can tell if you are properly hydrated by monitoring your urine color. Generally, a light-yellow color or clear urine indicates you are properly hydrated.
Long-term dehydration or heat stroke can seriously affect the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles, especially in those older than 60. Failure to prevent these conditions puts you at an increased risk of:
- Kidney stones;
- Urine tract infection;
- Respiratory infections; and
Prevention tips include:
- Know how much water you drink each day. With age, it’s especially important that you talk to your doctor about how much you should be drinking;
- Try infused water by adding fruits or vegetables into your water to add flavor without added sugars;
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol cause the body to lose more water than it’s taking in. Try decaffeinated coffee;
- Avoid the heat. The hottest time of the day is usually from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Make sure you exercise early in the morning, or later in the evening when it’s cooler;
- Wear thin clothing. Wearing thin, light-colored cotton or linen can help prevent overheating;
- Stay in the shade. Wearing hats can help keep heat off your skin and prevent overheating; and
- Wear sunscreen. Using sunscreen that is at least 30 SPF, especially for those older than 60, can help prevent heat-related illnesses.
It’s beneficial for seniors to understand the importance of staying hydrated, especially during the summer. Following these tips for avoiding dehydration and heat stroke can help ensure you continue to safely enjoy the summer time.
MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center includes a team of board-certified family medicine specialists that are dedicated to providing the best care for the entire family, from infants to older adults. The team can provide you with a variety of ways to stay safe and healthy all summer long. Find a primary care physician by calling 800-MEMORIAL or visiting memorialcare.org/providers.