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Myth Busting: Do Seniors Need to Hydrate Differently?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Brauner
Myth Busting: Do Seniors Need to Hydrate Differently?

How does someone not like water?

I think of my grandparents, who said they didn’t enjoy drinking a lot of water and assured me they were consuming enough of it. Now, I’m finding that many seniors feel the same way and aren’t getting the amount of water they need.

Seniors are vulnerable to dehydration because:
• They become less aware their bodies crave fluid as their thirst and appetite diminish with age
• Their medications increase the risk of dehydration
• Their bodies have become less effective at regulating temperature

So, we worry about our parents, grandparents and senior friends. We tell them they must drink eight or more glasses of water a day and that they can never drink too much. But is that true? I reached out to Dr. Mark Callesen, Jewish Family & Children’s Service chief medical officer and Zoe Bellinghausen, a Precision 1 Nutrition certified coach, to do a little myth-busting.

True or false? Seniors should drink eight glasses of water a day.

False. The answer is, it depends.

What's right for one person may not be suitable for another. Someone more active will need more water. Most people can stay hydrated by drinking when they feel thirsty. But the bottom line is that you should ask your doctor what is right for you.

True or false? Water is the only way to hydrate your body.

False. While it is essential to drink plain water, there are other ways to reach your total water goal for the day. In addition to water, beverages such as coffee, tea, milk and 100% fruit juice and water-rich foods (including soups, fruits and vegetables) can also provide your body with water. Bellinghausen encourages seniors to add fresh fruit or vegetables to a glass of water to create a more enjoyable beverage.

True or false? Sports drinks are the best way to hydrate after physical activity.

False, said Bellinghausen, who is also a triathlete. For most people, water is the best way to hydrate. Sports drinks have glucose and sodium to help the body absorb water more quickly than drinking water alone, but that's only necessary after rigorous exercise. Many seniors don’t fall into that category. However, because sports drinks are flavored, they may be a good substitute for a senior who doesn’t want to drink plain water.

If someone is looking to add electrolytes without the sugar found in sports drinks, Bellinghausen recommends:

  • coconut water
  • ginger
  • watermelon
  • salted broth
  • mixing a sports drink 50/50 with water

True or false? It’s impossible to drink too much water.

False, according to Callesen. However, drinking excessive water in a short amount of time can cause hyponatremia, which occurs when the body has more water than it can process and can cause sickness and even death. Symptoms of hyponatremia may include confusion, hallucinations, nausea, muscle weakness, vomiting and seizures. Consult your doctor if you are unsure about what level of fluid intake is right for you.

True or false? Dehydration is not that serious. If I get dehydrated, I can always drink a lot of water to feel better.

False! Callesen reminds his patients that dehydration can be severe, especially for seniors. Dehydration can cause decreased alertness, slower response time, impaired memory, reasoning and ability to do math. Inadequate water intake can increase the risk of kidney stones, gallstones and certain infections, and it can cause fainting and death in severe cases. Some common symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, headache, fatigue, dizziness and decreased urination.

Drinking water and staying hydrated is extremely important for overall health, but the water content of foods is often overlooked. While drinking water is crucial, you can consume a significant amount of water by including a variety of water-rich fruits, vegetables and dairy products in your diet.

10 Water-Rich Foods That Help You Stay Hydrated

  • Watermelon
  • Strawberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Peaches
  • Oranges
  • Skim milk
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce
  • Broths and soups
  • Zucchini

Hydration is vital for everyone, but especially seniors. It's an essential part of keeping the body and mind healthy.

This article was originally published in the Jewish News.

Jennifer Brauner is Director of the Center for Senior Enrichment (CSE) and its Creative Aging program at Jewish Family & Children’s Service.