Dehydration: Elderly to Children

Electrolytes are fundamental to good health. They transmit millions of messages per second through the nervous system. Electrolytes aid in brain, heart and nerve function as well as muscle control and coordination.   They are crucial for cellular function. The body’s ability to absorb fluids depends on a healthy balance of electrolytes. Without a proper balance between fluids and electrolytes our health will decline.  Severe imbalances can even be fatal. Conditions that disrupt electrolyte balance include illnesses that cause fevers, vomiting, or diarrhea. Other causes are prescription drugs such as diuretics, caffeine (including coffee and caffeinated soft drinks), excessive perspiration, extreme exercise, and inadequate fluid consumption.

As we age the water level in our bodies decrease making us more prone to dehydration. You can suffer from dehydration without realizing it.  The elderly are particularly susceptible to dehydration without being aware of what is happening. Older people have 60% water content in their bodies as opposed to 70% water content in younger people. Elderly people also have a lower thirst response, which, when combined with other aging factors, such as swallowing difficulties, poor food intake, laxative use, and even resisting fluids due to anxiety associated with incontinence, can contribute to a state of dehydration without the individual being aware of it.   As we age our kidneys allow glucose and sodium to escape along with necessary fluids to stay healthy.  This also causes an increased chance of dehydration. Dehydration may also contribute to some conditions that are associated with aging, such as confusion, lethargy, low urine input, to name a few.  Infants and young children are also at risk of electrolyte imbalance whenever they lose fluids through vomiting or diarrhea because of illness. The body’s ability to absorb fluids all depends on a healthy balance of electrolytes.  Balance is the ultimate goal.

Symptoms of early or mild dehydration include:

•  flushed face
•  extreme thirst, more than normal or unable to drink
•  dry, warm skin
•  cannot pass urine or reduced amounts, dark, yellow
•  dizziness made worse when you are standing
•  weakness
•  cramping in the arms and legs
•  crying with few or no tears
•  sleepy or irritable
•  unwell
•  headaches
•  dry mouth, dry tongue; with thick saliva.
•  in severe dehydration, these effects become more pronounced

Symptoms of moderate to severe dehydration include:

•  low blood pressure
•  fainting
•  severe muscle contractions in the arms, legs, stomach, and back
•  convulsions
•  a bloated stomach
•  heart failure
•  sunken fontanelle - soft spot on a infants head
•  sunken dry eyes, with few or no tears
•  skin loses its firmness and looks wrinkled
•  lack of elasticity of the skin (when a bit of skin lifted up stays folded and takes a
   long time to go back to its normal position)
•  rapid and deep breathing - faster than normal
•  fast, weak pulse

Mild to moderate dehydration in adults can be corrected by drinking liquids, especially those that effectively restore electrolytes.


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The information contained in this web site is for educational purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Inclusion here does not imply any endorsement or recommendation.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified medical provider for all medical problems prior to starting any new regiment.