During heat waves in the summer, it’s good to pay closer attention to elderly or frail individuals around us. When people get older, or ill, they sometime lose the habit of drinking regularly and can quickly become dehydrated, especially in hot weather.
Elderly individuals are particularly at risk for complications if they become dehydrated, especially if they take medication for chronic diseases (e.g. certain cardiovascular or renal problems).
Dehydration can lead to confusion and dizziness, which in turn increases the risk of falls and fractures. A hip fracture in the elderly can have very serious consequences, from a loss of autonomy to placement in a home, or even death.
Dehydration can lead to acute renal failure (ARF). ARF is a medical emergency that can lead to death if it is not addressed very promptly. The risk of ARF is higher in people with diabetes or with kidney, liver or heart disease, and also among obese individuals. This is particularly true when the person takes certain types of antihypertensive medication, diuretics or anti-inflammatories.
The symptoms of ARF are a significant decrease in the amount of urine produced (or even a complete lack of urination), swelling in the legs or feet, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, confusion, anxiety, and drowsiness.
In order to reduce the risk of dehydration, elderly individuals must be encouraged to drink regularly, for example by keeping a water jug in plain sight. You can also offer them “liquid” foods such as broth, Jell-O and ice cream, or very juicy fruits such as watermelon and citrus fruits.
Also be on the lookout for bouts of diarrhea or vomiting, as they can quickly lead to dehydration.
If someone you know shows some of the signs of ARF, take them to the hospital emergency so they can receive medical care. When in doubt, call Info-Santé (811).