Judson Haims: Dangers of dehydration — pay attention to the signs
As we all know, our bodies are composed of mostly water — nearly 65 percent. This makes it imperative that we focus on hydration at all times of the year. Unfortunately, most of us only consider combating our body's loss of water during the summer months, when it is hot outside and we can feel ourselves losing water through perspiration. That also is the time when we most often hear about the need to hydrate: "Drink plenty of water."
Not only does water help our body regulate our temperature, it also flushes waste via urination, lubricates and cushions our joints, assists in digestion, and helps stabilize our heart beat. Water keeps every part of our body working properly.
Here in the mountains of Colorado, winter months and altitude can greatly exacerbate one's likelihood of dehydration. Low humidity and oxygen levels, combined with higher rates of respiration and increased rates of sweat evaporation can cause people to lose water through respiration at high altitude twice as quickly than at sea level.
Below are some of the signs and symptoms of dehydration:
• Decreased urine output — urine will become concentrated and more yellow in color
• Dry nasal passages
• Dry, cracked lips, dry mouth, eyes stop making tears, sweating may stop, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting
• Lightheadedness (especially when standing)
• Irritability and confusion in the elderly also should be heeded immediately
For the elderly, dehydration can present symptoms that may cause concern of other ailments such as cramps, low blood pressure, confusion and irritability, unconsciousness or delirium, and sunken eyes. In extreme circumstances dehydration may cause seizures, brain swelling, kidney stones and even compound ailments like diabetes and dementia.
Some reasons for lack of water retention include:
• Fever from the flu
• Diarrhea from a stomach virus
• Vomiting from stomach illness
• Increased urination from certain types of medications
• The aging process may cause a reduction in a sense of thirst
As is often the case in medicine, prevention is the important first step in the treatment of dehydration. Here are six remedies and ways to prevent dehydration:
1. Fluid replacement is the treatment for dehydration. This can include: water, juice, soups, clear broth, popsicles, Jell-O, ice cream, milk, nutritional drink supplements and replacement fluids that may contain electrolytes.
2. Reduce or eliminate dehydrating beverages such as coffee, tea and soft drinks. Beware of alcohol intake, too. Alcoholic beverages increase risk of dehydration because the body requires additional water to metabolize alcohol and it also acts as a diuretic.
3. If you drink unhealthy beverages, you need to add even more water to your daily total intake.
4. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Most are high in water content.
5. Drink water throughout the day in small amounts. It is not good to suddenly gulp down 64 ounces of water. You can fill a 24- to 32-ounce tumbler in the morning, refill it by late morning, and refill it again in the afternoon.
6. Individuals with vomiting and diarrhea can try to alter their diet and use medications to control symptoms to minimize water loss.
Keep in mind: If an individual becomes confused or lethargic; if there is persistent uncontrolled fever, vomiting or diarrhea, or there are any other specific concerns, then medical care should be accessed. Call 911 for anyone with altered mental state — confusion, lethargy or coma.
Water helps every part of our body. Drink up!
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His can be reached at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.