Record high temperatures are gripping much of our country. While the heat may be uncomfortable to many of us, for the elders in our care it can be down-right dangerous.
As we age, our bodies cannot regulate body temperature as effectively as it once did. Medication and chronic illness can exasperate the body’s response to overheating. Staying indoors can help keep elders cool, but something that is often overlooked is drinking adequate amounts of fluids.
Growing older, certain medications and chronic disease affect the body’s ability to regulate body temperature and fluid balance. While we can’t control all factors, keeping an elder well-hydrated is within our realm of care.
Help Your Clients’ Hydrate
Getting elderly clients to drink beverages can be a challenge for many caregivers. An elder’s sense of thirst is diminished with age, they may forget to drink or fear incontinence and avoid drinking.
Encourage caregivers to try these tips:
Keep a pitcher or bottle of water nearby and remind the client to sip throughout the day. This can also be a tool for measuring daily water intake.
Link activities with drinking a beverage to help the elder remember. For example, drinking a glass of water after brushing teeth or while watching the daily news are habits that can be learned.
Liven up plain water with lemon or lime wedges, fresh cucumbers, berries or herbs.
Offer snacks that are high in moisture such as applesauce, oranges, melon or grapes. These foods are also good sources of electrolytes to help with fluid balance.
Serve foods like soups or smoothies for extras fluids at mealtime.
Plain Water is Just Too Plain
What if the elder doesn’t care for plain water? Don’t worry - milk, 100% fruit and vegetable juice, broth-based soups, coffee and tea are good ways to fill up on fluids. It is important to limit soda, sugary beverages and sports drinks because they add a lot of empty calories. Caffeine-containing beverages may interfere with sleep patterns or medications.
How Much Fluid is Enough?
The Institute of Medicine recommends that men over 50 consume almost 13 cups of beverages each day. Women over 50 should consume 9 cups daily. While these amounts seem daunting; it is important to keep in mind that many foods, especially fruits and vegetables, are high in moisture and count towards daily fluid intake. MyPlate for Older Adults recommends drinking eight cups of beverages each day.
Elders with heart failure, kidney disease or other chronic conditions may be asked to limit fluids. Always follow the care plan.
Along with regulating body temperature, adequate hydration is key for maintaining healthy blood pressure and heart rhythm. Fluids aid in the digestion of food and the removal of waste from the body. Fluid also helps to lubricate and cushion joints and protect sensitive tissue like the eyes.
Encourage caregivers to share the beautiful summer weather with their clients. Going for a walk or sitting on the patio will strengthen that special bond. Just remind caregivers to serve a refreshing glass of her favorite beverage afterwards.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Heat Stress in Older Adults. CDC, 13 July 2015. Web. 3 Aug. 2015. http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/older-adults-heat.asp
Institute of Medicine. Panel on Dietary Reference Intakes for Electrolytes and Water, Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride and Sulfate. Washington, D. C.: National Academy Press, 2005.
Tufts University. MyPlate for Older Adults. USDA-HNRCA. 2015. http://nutrition.tufts.edu/research/myplate-older-adults.
Chef Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFPP, is a food scientist, culinary instructor, author and founder of Caregivers Kitchen. She is passionate about empowering caregivers to make positive nutritional changes and mealtime meaningful for those in their care. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.