Q: How can we get my older mother to drink more water? She is susceptible to urinary tract infections and seems to be often dehydrated no matter what we do. We were also wondering if coffee and tea are okay, or should they be avoided to reduce dehydration?
A: Dehydration is indeed an important problem for older adults. It can be common even when it’s not hot outside.
Helping an older person increase her fluid intake, as you’re trying to do, is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of dehydration.
Now how to actually do this? Studies — and practical experience — suggest that the best approaches include:
- Frequently offering the older person a drink, preferably on a schedule,
Offering beverages the person seems to prefer,
- Not expecting older adults to drink a large quantity at a single sitting,
- Addressing any urinary incontinence issues that might be making the person reluctant to drink often.
But your question brings up other issues in my mind. Has frequent dehydration been confirmed? (Dehydration can be hard to correctly diagnose.) Have you been able to measure how much your mother drinks, and how does this amount compare to the recommended daily fluid intake for older adults?
Also, is the real goal to prevent or manage frequent urinary tract infections, and is increasing her hydration likely to achieve this?
So let’s review the basics of dehydration in older adults, the symptoms of dehydration in elders, and what’s known about helping older adults stay hydrated. I will then share some additional tips on helping your mother maintain hydration.
The Basics of Dehydration
What is dehydration and what causes it?
Dehydration means the body doesn’t have as much fluid within the cells and blood vessels as it should.
Normally, the body constantly gains fluid through what we eat and drink, and loses fluid through urination, sweating, and other bodily functions. But if we keep losing more fluid than we take in, we can become dehydrated.
If a person starts to become dehydrated, the body is designed to signal thirst to the brain. The kidneys are also supposed to start concentrating the urine, so that less water is lost that way.