Dehydration: Keeping Nursing Home Resident’s Safe in Summer Heat

heat waveAs temperatures begin to rise, dehydration in the elderly will become a real concern. If someone you love is in a nursing home you should know the signs of dehydration to make sure they are receiving enough fluids to keep them hydrated and safe.

What causes dehydration?

According to the article, dehydration can be caused by several factors. One of the most simple causes is lack of fluids. Another common cause of dehydration is being in the heat. The article also outlines other more complicated causes of dehydration:

  • Diarrhea, vomiting. Severe, acute diarrhea — that is, diarrhea that comes on suddenly and violently — can cause a tremendous loss of water and electrolytes in a short amount of time. If you have vomiting along with diarrhea, you lose even more fluids and minerals.
  • Fever. In general, the higher your fever, the more dehydrated you may become. The problem worsens if you have a fever in addition to diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Excessive sweating. You lose water when you sweat. If you do vigorous activity and don’t replace fluids as you go along, you can become dehydrated. Hot, humid weather increases the amount you sweat and the amount of fluid you lose.
  • Increased urination. This may be due to undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes. Certain medications, such as diuretics and some blood pressure medications, also can lead to dehydration, generally because they cause you to urinate more.

Older Adults and Dehydration

Everyone is susceptible to dehydration. Elderly residents at nursing homes are at a higher risk of dehydration though. The Mayo Clinic article outlines why older people are at a higher risk:

As you age, your body’s fluid reserve becomes smaller, your ability to conserve water is reduced and your thirst sense becomes less acute. These problems are compounded by chronic illnesses such as diabetes and dementia, and by the use of certain medications. Older adults also may have mobility problems that limit their ability to obtain water for themselves.

Here are some symptoms that can be the result of dehydration in nursing homes:

  • Increased thirst.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Tired or sleepy.
  • Decreased urine output.
  • Urine is low volume and more yellowish than normal.
  • Headache.
  • Dry skin.
  • Dizziness.

Signs of extreme dehydration may include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry or ashy skin
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Feeling faint, dizzy, or light-headed
  • Chills
  • Facial skin feeling flushed and red
  • Seizures
  • Labored breathing
  • Vomiting

Older people are at increased risk for dehydration.  As we get older, “your body’s fluid reserve becomes smaller, your ability to conserve water is reduced and your thirst sense becomes less acute.”   (Mayo Clinic)  I would add the risks of dehydration become much sharper: faster organ shut down, more complications, bedsores and infections.  And an older person is much more likely to be unable to fend for themselves or summon help.

Older people are much more likely to have chronic illnesses that can cause or become worse with dehydration, too.  Uncontrolled or untreated diabetes increases the risk o dehydration.  So does kidney disease.  medications that increase fluid output in urine–diuretics like Lasix, that may be used to treat congestive heart failure–also increase the risk of dehydration.

If you believe that your loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse due to dehydration, please comment below or contact me here. I would be happy to go over the role a nursing home plays in properly caring for your loved one and keeping them hydrated.

Do you have questions about a possible abuse, neglect, stroke, or heart attack case? Contact us now using this confidential form. Or leave a comment below--but remember the comments are public, not confidential.

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