symptoms of dehydration (1)

What are the symptoms of dehydration in elderly people?

5 min read |
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Author 20.07.2022

Gemma Clay

In the warmer weather it becomes more important to understand the symptoms of dehydration in elderly people.

Older people are more susceptible to dehydration for a variety of reasons.

For example they may have mobility issues that make it difficult to access fluids. Or they may also take medications where mild dehydration is a side effect.

In this post, we will explore the symptoms of dehydration in elderly people and how it can be avoided.

Here’s what we will cover in this article:

  • Dehydration can lead to very serious illnesses, particularly in older people
  • Some signs of dehydration to look out for include reduced urination, confusion, and unexplained tiredness
  • Older people should be encouraged to drink regularly, or set reminder alarms to drink, as the thirst response grows less effective with age
  • Food is also an important source of hydration, with salad vegetables and fruit like grapes and melon all providing a burst of refreshing liquid
symptoms of dehydration in elderly

What is dehydration?

Fluid is extremely important in all processes in the human body. For example, it helps keep joints lubricated, it assists in kidney function, and keeps your body temperature stable.

Dehydration occurs when there isn’t enough fluid in the body. In other words, more fluid has been lost through sweating, urination or breathing than has been taken in in food and drink. 

This can become very dangerous, quite quickly, particularly in the elderly, who may become confused at the onset of dehydration.

Confusion may then lead to further dehydration and sadly, serious illness. 

Illnesses linked to dehydration

Serious and prolonged dehydration can lead to kidney problems such as kidney stones or even kidney failure.

Heat stroke or heat exhaustion is also a possible outcome of dehydration, which are both unpleasant to experience and can be very dangerous. 

Seizures can also come about, thanks to mineral deficiencies as a result of dehydration.

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What causes dehydration in elderly people?

Taking in less fluid that we lose (mostly through urination and sweating) is the cause of dehydration. This can happen in several ways. 

  • Hot times of year are always a risk for dehydration through excess sweating. This may also happen in an overheated home, or being too wrapped up in clothes
  • Illness is a risk factor for dehydration. Vomiting and diarrhoea in particular can contribute to dehydration as retaining fluids becomes difficult  
  • Medications can sometimes cause people to urinate more frequently, affecting their hydration
  • The urge to drink, or the thirst response, diminishes with age. Older people may not realise that they are thirsty as they don’t feel the thirsty signal as strongly as they once did
  • People experiencing mobility issues may find it hard to access drinks easily, so not bother to have a drink as often as they should
  • Some conditions like kidney disease or diabetes affect fluid levels in the body Kidneys often grow less effective with age, so this may also lead to increased urination 
  • Failing to drink enough because they don’t want to get up to use the toilet, thanks to mobility issues or pain on moving
symptoms of dehydration

How can dehydration affect senior people? 

As we age, our fluid levels decrease naturally. This means that we must be vigilant about our hydration as we get older.

Elderly people particularly can be at risk of some of the more severe aspects of dehydration, as their fluid levels are lower to begin with.

One warning symptom of dehydration in older people is confusion. This can set in surprisingly quickly once dehydration occurs, and can cause a host of knock on effects. 

Confusion in older people may be seen as an early sign of dementia, however it can also be a sign of dehydration. 

It is important to check your loved one’s hydration levels if they grow confused.

If you’re worried about your loved one and find yourself asking what are the early signs of dementia then our guide has a full list for you to familiarise yourself with.


hydration for older people

Risks of dehydration

Serious or prolonged dehydration can lead to kidney problems such as kidney stones or even kidney failure. 

It may also lead to urinary tract infections, meaning it becomes painful to urinate. 

This then creates a dehydration cycle, as the person won’t want to drink because of the pain of urination, making them more dehydrated.

Seizures can come about, thanks to mineral deficiencies as a result of the dehydration. 

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion is also a possible outcome. If a person’s temperature is raised and they can’t cool down at all, medical intervention may be necessary.


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Other symptoms of dehydration in elderly people are:

  • Confusion
  • Balance issues
  • Constipation
  • Dry eyes, unable to produce many tears
  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Unusually few urges to urinate
  • Feeling an unquenchable thirst
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How do I combat dehydration?

The best way to combat dehydration is to drink water, or another hydrating fluid regularly. 

All fluids count toward rehydration, but those including caffeine or sugar may not be the best for general health. 

Drinking water regularly is ideal for hydration. However, if your loved one doesn’t care much for water, try adding mint or citrus to it for added flavour. 

They might also enjoy a sugar free squash or cordial to tempt them into drinking more. 

Fruit juice mixed with sparkling water can be an interesting change from plain juice or water. Fruit tea may also be a pleasant change from black tea, and is quite refreshing,also usually caffeine-free. 

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Food and hydration

Don’t overlook food as an important source of hydration, so remember to eat regular, nutritious meals. 

Foods with high water content include soups and broths, jellies, yoghurts, fish and seafood, also soft cheeses. 

Most non-starchy vegetables have a high water content as well, with salad vegetables being some of the most hydrating. 

Fruits are also very often high in water content, with grapes and melons being some of the best for refreshment. 

Dried fruits are less useful in this regard, having had most of their fluid removed in the drying process.

Are you looking for care?

If you need to find home care for your loved one it can be hard to know where to turn.

Recommendations from friends can be good, but they might not be right for you.

The Sweet Pea care platform gives you the ability to carry out fully personalised care searches for your loved one.

Then you can get connected to home care providers that you know will be the right choice.

Gemma Clay Sweet Pea Care Webinars

Author 20.07.2022

Gemma Clay

Gemma is the Founder and CEO of Sweet Pea Care and has been advising families and care companies for the last decade through Arc Seven Communications.