Water, Water Everywhere…

Senior Man Drinking Water http://themavinsgroup.comDuring the early days of caring for my father, I finally got him to drink eight glasses of water a day for two days straight. Two remarkable things happened. The mild edema he was suffering from virtually disappeared. His feet, which looked like little humps, looked almost normal again!

The other remarkable thing? We almost came to blows over my insistence that he drink it.

Having cared for an elderly parent for three years, I’m convinced of two basic truths: (1) Drinking eight glasses of water per day can have marvelous benefits for your senior family member; and (2) he’ll hate drinking it.

Having puzzled over this a long time, I am persuaded that elderly loss of interest in drinking water is nature’s mechanism for killing them off to make room for younger people. I cannot find any other suitable explanation for it. Drinking fluids is (or should be) relatively easy, and the benefits considerable. (If you’re not convinced of the benefits, watch this 2008 report from Britain’s BBC to learn more. In my opinion, drinking water is one of those simple things that offer high leverage when trying to maximize the health and well being of your senior.

External Factors

Many factors conspire to dehydrate your senior parent besides his or her own attitude about fluid intake. For example, central heating and air conditioning, those marvels of modern technology, also dehumidifies air, causing a Sahara-like environment in your parent’s house, and sucking the moisture out of them along the way. My anecdotal guess is that 60 percent of the symptoms, which we describe as symptoms of aging or old age are in fact symptoms of dehydration (not a statistic, just my own estimate. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it were not too far off the mark).

The Signs

What are the signs? Dehydration is perhaps the most insidious of conditions, because there is no pain involved. Reports of feeling generally lousy, chronic sleepiness during the day, insomnia, a coated tongue, and similar such symptoms can all be signs of dehydration. Don’t write off feelings of lousiness as just the realities of old age. Make sure that your parent gets checked by a physician and tested for dehydration. Make sure you tell the physician you suspect dehydration.

Things You Can Try

My battles with my father to take in more fluids began to take on Shakespearean proportions. I tried forcing him, scaring him, printing out articles on senior dehydration to read. He had been told several times by doctors that he was suffering from mild dehydration and that dehydration could kill him. I would recommend you try all these ideas, insofar as every senior is different, and you never know what might persuade him.

If you have a parent who agrees that he or she needs to drink more water, but simply forgets, try this approach, which worked for us for at least a few days. Purchase a normal manual kitchen timer, the kind you can crank to say five minutes and place within easy reach, together with a glass or bottle of water. Have him set the timer for five minutes and then take a sip. When the timer rings, he needs to take another sip of water and then reset the timer for five minutes. In no time he should be finished with a couple glasses.

Modestly flavored fluids, either partially diluted fruit juice or prepared beverages such as vitamin water can also help, but be careful about the sugar content of undiluted fruit juices. Soups are always a great idea, but be mindful of the salt. In the end, nothing beats at least six glasses of pure water a day.

Above all, clear any hydration plans with your parent’s physician before undertaking it.

Monitor your elderly parent’s fluid intake carefully. Try to get him in the habit of drinking water. It’s time well spent. If you succeed, it will not only make him more comfortable, it could extend their physical life, and make yours a bit easier in the meantime.

Source: Robert Kopacz, an attorney by training, is now a video producer and website developer who spent a large part of his career in consulting and management. He spent three years caring for an elderly father, learning by trial and error (mostly error). He blogs for Moving Mavins on bits of wisdom learned from that experience. When he’s not blogging, he’s developing websites and running RosenetTV, an internet TV channel serving Madison, NJ.