How to Prevent Heatstroke and Dehydration in the Elderly

The summer months are generally a time for fun, enjoying the outdoors while the sun shines and the weather brings a renewed energy. But a familiar story every summer is that of many elderly people falling ill due to heatstroke and dehydration.

The team here at Stechford Mobility thought it would be useful to take a look at why the elderly are more prone to health risks in the summer, and what can be done to help prevent them from falling victim to illness brought on by the season, so you know how to keep your elderly relatives, friends and neighbours safe this summer.

Why are the elderly more prone to dehydration?

Dehydration becomes a greater risk as we get older. This can be due to a number of reasons, but the most common is simply physiological changes. One of the main age-related changes is a reduced sense of thirst, which makes it tough for carers to know when elderly patients need replenishment.

Many seniors are not strong enough to get a drink on their own when thirsty, so they may end up going long periods of time without water, while the effects of a reduced sense of thirst can be more pronounced in those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or in those who have suffered a stroke.

Reduced kidney function is also a common occurrence in the elderly. This causes a decline in fluid conservation and regulation. Kidney function deteriorates with age, progressing at 50 years old and becoming more noticeable and impactful at 70.

Illness and medication can also cause dehydration in the elderly. Anything that causes loss of fluid will increase the risk of dehydration. Illnesses that bring on vomiting and diarrhea means a rapid and prolonged loss of fluid, so dehydration will likely follow, and some medications like laxatives and antihistamines can cause increased loss of fluid.

Symptoms of dehydration

It’s important to recognise the symptoms of dehydration in the elderly before it becomes too serious. Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling faint, lightheaded or dizzy
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth with thick saliva
  • Inability to urinate, urinating small amounts or dark coloured urine

The symptoms of dehydration may resemble other medical conditions. Monitoring fluid intake is recommended to help prevent dehydration from setting in.

Dangers of dehydration

Left untreated, dehydration can lead to serious complications and, potentially, fatal consequences.

Heat injuries can be common in the elderly and risks of things like heat cramps and heat exhaustion are increased if they are suffering from dehydration while also being exposed to the sun for extended periods of time.

While heat exhaustion can lead to dizziness, sickness and generally feeling unwell, it is heatstroke which can prove the most dangerous. Heatstroke is where the body can no longer keep itself cool and body temperature rises too high. Direct, long exposure to the sun and a lack of fluid replenishment or management can lead to heatstroke.

Heatstroke is a life threatening illness and can progress rapidly if left untreated. Severe symptoms of heatstroke can include confusion, disorientation, seizures and a loss of consciousness. It is vital to keep track of fluid intake in the hot weather, and make sure any elderly person you are with is not exposed to direct sunlight for too long. Keeping them hydrated with water and keeping them in the shade so they can stay cool are ways to prevent things from progressing to the dangerous stage of heatstroke.

Prevention tips

Preventing dehydration and heat related issues in the elderly can be done at the same time. The most important factors for both is to keep them hydrated and cool. Encourage the elderly to take fluids in small amounts throughout the day, instead of large amounts at once, and try to encourage them to eat foods that are high in water, like fruits, vegetables and dairy products.

Careful monitoring of fluid intake is vital. Keeping on top of this while making sure the elderly aren’t exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods of time will provide the best chance of avoiding dehydration and the heat related issues it can cause.

Try to keep them as cool as possible while inside and out to avoid the dangers of dehydration and heatstroke.

Generally, in the hot weather, it is smart to: take things easy; spend more time in air conditioned environments that are not too humid; and wear appropriate clothes to prevent excess sweating and to keep your temperature down.

Stechford Mobility offer the highest quality mobility aids, services and equipment to help the elderly and anyone with mobility issues in their day-to-day lives. We have an experienced and caring team to provide advice for any mobility related issue, so get in touch today to find out how we can help you or a loved one.