The reason that thirst sensation decreases with age is not quite known, but there are a lot of factors working against hydration levels. Medications can have an impact. As can existing symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting, and memory conditions like dementia.
"The solution for hydration for older and elderly adults is both simple and also not so simple," says Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT, registered dietitian-nutritionist. "Yes, it's true that drinking more fluids is important, but it isn't as simple as recommending that people simply drink more water."
There's a fine line between drinking enough water and drinking too much water, especially for people on medications that impact salt and fluid balance in the body, Volpe says. For example, she says that people with certain medical conditions such as heart failure or kidney disease are often advised to stay on a fluid restriction for health reasons, so general hydration guidelines would not apply to them. This is because, when organs like the kidneys can't function at their maximum capacity, higher amounts of fluid intake can overload them. Folks facing conditions like this should consult their doctor about how to stay within the parameters of their unique fluid requirements.
Staying hydrated is super important for people of all ages, but as you age, thirst cues aren't necessarily a reliable form of information, Volpe says. So, if you're struggling to remain hydrated throughout the day, we've got a few hacks below.
1. Make a schedule
As previously mentioned, timing your hydration is an important way to avoid waking up at night to pee—especially if you have mobility issues. Your schedule could involve drinking water first thing in the morning, remembering to drink water after coffee (because it's a diuretic), or setting timers and reminders to drink water throughout the day.
You can also plan water breaks around medication needs, says Volpe. For example, if you take a medication that would not benefit from water consumption—making a schedule that works with your health needs is a good idea.
2. Eat your water, too
According to a 2016 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients, the average adult in the U.S. gets around 20 percent of their water from food. This is good news because it clearly illustrates that you can meet your hydration needs through your overall diet. Throughout the day, incorporating water-rich food, like cucumbers, watermelon, oranges, apples, and other fruits and veggies can hydrate the body.
3. Expand your beverage horizons
Not everyone loves the taste and thirst-quenching power of water, especially if you're not feeling very thirsty. So if you're looking to mix things up, take comfort in knowing there are a lot of other hydrating beverages, Volpe says. This could include fruit juice, tea, Gatorade, sparkling water, smoothies, and more. Switching up what you drink can help keep the dehydration away.
Just make sure that what you consume doesn't conflict with any dietary or health needs. For instance, grapefruit juice contains an enzyme that can either block the effects of a medicine or increase the amount of it in the bloodstream, according to the FDA.
4. Be mindful of exercise and weather
Older adults can get dehydrated quicker, Volpe says. Making sure that you're staying on top of water intake or having a sports drink when you're active can prevent dehydration. Additionally, checking the weather and making sure that you will be able to find rest and shade on hot days is also important.
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