While we were visiting our friends in British Columbia, I offered to help cut down some scrub trees on a steep bank that my friend had been procrastinating about for longer than he cared to admit. Cutting the trees was only half the work; the other half was in getting to them because the bank was so steep. We were probably working a couple hundred feet below his deck, which was our nearest source of liquid refreshment. After a couple hours, I became dizzy, weak and lightheaded. Not smart and not a good situation. I really had to pause and rest to work my way back up the hill to get some liquid refreshment.
My symptoms were classic dehydration:
- Mild to excessive thirst
- Dry mouth
- Little or no urination
- Muscle weakness
- Confusion and forgetfulness
- Deep rapid breathing or an increased heart rate.
While I escaped with no lasting consequences (at least that I know of!), it could have been life threatening. Dehydration is one of the most frequent causes of hospitalization for the elderly. And, approximately half of those hospitalized for dehydration die within a year. Clearly, dehydration among seniors is more serious than we typically consider it to be.
The first sign of dehydration is usually thirst, which generally occurs when you have already experienced a 1% to 2% loss of body water. Many older people, including me, have a diminished sense of thirst, and may be seriously dehydrated before they experience this warning. This can put us at risk before we know what is happening to us. Here are some things we can do to keep from getting dehydrated:
- Have a glass of water or juice when you first get up in the morning.
- Take a bottle of water with you when you travel anywhere-walking, on the bus, in a car, or in an airplane, (or when using a chainsaw to cut down scrub trees on a hill!)
- Whenever you see a water fountain, stop and take a sip.
- Drink water before, after, and during physical activity.
- Give yourself “water breaks” throughout the day, instead of or in addition to, coffee breaks.
- Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day because they have a high water content.
In these hot July and August days it’s extremely important that we protect our seniors from dehydration. In fact, I’m going to go get an apple right now!
See you next week.