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Signs & symptoms of dehydration in the elderly

Updated April 17, 2017

There are many health risks to be cautious of when caring for an elderly person. One of these is dehydration. Because of several bodily changes elderly people experience, they are at high risk for becoming dehydrated. Fever, mental disorientation and decreased urination are some of the easiest signs to spot. There are ways to care for and stabilise an elderly person who becomes dehydrated, if you know the symptoms and get them help.

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Often the first sign that an elderly person is suffering from dehydration is a sudden fever. Because an elderly person's body temperature is typically lower than a young person's, it is important to gauge a fever against the individual's normal temperature. The average temperature of an elderly person is usually around 36.1 degrees C, rather than the 98.6 normal temperature of a younger person's. If the fever is accompanied by no other signs of illness, and the following signs of dehydration are present, it most likely is attributed to dehydration. Because the body does not have enough fluid to cool itself, a fever often results from dehydration.


Another early sign of a dehydrated elderly person is confusion and disorientation. They may seem irritable and not understand where they are or who is around them. Again, it is valuable to have a sense of the person's usual mental state, so as to measure whether they are unusually disoriented. Ask simple questions that the person could normally answer and try to get a sense of whether they are seeming abnormally confused.

Other Symptoms

Aside from the earliest signs of fever and disorientation, an elderly person will likely present other signs of dehydration. They may have weakened muscles, decreased urination, increased heartbeat, sunken eyes and loosened skin on the forehead or sternum. If any of these symptoms occur in conjunction with each other, the person should be assessed by a doctor for dehydration.


The most basic form of treating dehydration, of course, is to hydrate the elderly person. Because they may need more nourishment than water provides, a doctor may choose a supplement, such as Pedialite for the person to drink. If the person is not drinking on their own, or cannot drink on their own, a doctor will likely put her on an IV until the dehydration stabilises.


Because elderly people go through several physiologic changes, they are more prone to dehydration than younger people. For starters, they have about 10 per cent less body fluid than younger people. Additionally, since the sense of taste decreases as they age, they have less interest in food, which contains water. They are also often less quick to respond to their body's needs, such as thirst, and may simply not drink enough. Finally, when a person is extremely elderly, they may lose the physical ability to drink easily and therefore consume much less fluid.

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About the Author

Abbey Baker is a writer and teacher at an alternative school in Burlington, Vt., where she specializes in working with students who have learning disabilities. Baker has a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing and writes short stories. She recently had a short story published in "Eleven Eleven" journal.

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