As Administrator of a Nursing Home, there are a myriad of issues that I train my staff to focus on to help ensure we are providing excellent care. On the top of the list during these warm summer months is the risk of dehydration. Though any of us can experience dehydration, young children and seniors are particularly at risk, and many of us don’t recognize the symptoms. Dehydration occurs when the amount of water leaving the body is greater than the amount being taken in. Water is a critical element to the body; up to 75% of the human body’s weight is made up of water at any given time. As a result, proper hydration is required for our body’s to function correctly.
The body constantly loses water through normal activity such as breathing, sweating, and elimination through urine and bowel function. Because of this tendency, a person has to drink a significant amount of water to replace the amount lost — even without having engaged in strenuous activity. The body is able to monitor the amount of fluid it possesses and weigh this amount against how much it needs to function. The thirst mechanism signals the body to drink water when the body is dry, but if we ignore or do not recognize its signal, we are at risk of becoming dehydrated.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration will occur quickly if the water is not replenished, and may include dry mouth, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting, and a darkened in urine color. Hot weather and increased exercise can contribute to the risk of dehydration. At the Methodist Home, many of our seniors enjoy the warmth and sunshine and are prone to be more active in the summer months. Ensuring fluid intake on a regular basis as well as providing shady areas and preventing long periods outdoors are steps we take to prevent dehydration.
Fluid replacement is crucial if signs and symptoms of dehydration occur. Small, frequent amounts of water, clear broth, popsicles, and gelatin should be provided. If symptoms do not subside, a physician should be notified and intravenous treatment (IV) may be required. Prevention, however, is the most important first step. Show someone you care by encouraging him or her to have a drink of water!
Vice President, CMSS