.For older adults, looking after your physical health is essential if you want to enjoy an active, healthy, and engaged retirement.
What’s not so obvious is the invisible impact of your mental health – and the big role that it plays in your overall well-being.
Sadly, too many older adults will suffer from mental health issues as they age. According to a report by the World Health Organization, 14% of those aged over 60 live with a mental health condition.
While this might be a less-than-ideal statistic, the good news is that a lot can be done to improve your mental health. You just need to focus on the things that are in your control – one of which is water intake. Likely one of the easiest and healthiest ways to improve your mental health and overall well-being is by staying properly hydrated.
In this article, we’ll share the risks of dehydration, some guidelines for sufficient (and safe) hydration, plus six practical tips for staying hydrated. But first, a review of the benefits of water intake for older adults.
The Importance of Hydration for Older Adults
Of course, hydration is important at every age, but its significance grows exponentially as you age.
Even though water is a basic necessity, a recent report on civic science shares that an alarming 47% of Americans don’t drink enough of it. The effects of this are less pronounced in younger people. While younger people can maybe get away with shrugging off the effects of a little dehydration, older adults need to be more vigilant.
For more information about the broader health and wellness benefits of drinking water, check out our guide on the health benefits of water. For now, a few of the health benefits are:
- Skin health & joint protection: Hydration keeps the skin plump and smooth while also acting as a cushion for joints, reducing discomfort and preventing joint-related issues.
- Mood & mental health: A report published by the National Library of Medicine shows a direct link between hydration and mental health. One fact from the report worth noting is that those who drink less than two glasses of water daily suffered from a 73% (men) and 54% (women) increment in the risk of depression.
- Energy & weight management: Staying hydrated helps maintain energy levels, prevents fatigue, and can act as an appetite suppressant, aiding in digestion and potentially assisting with weight loss.
- Digestive Health: Proper water intake supports the digestive system, preventing constipation and ensuring efficient nutrient absorption.
A healthy intake of water can boost your physical and mental health and overall well-being. Which is a big deal considering the idea that many people end up hating retirement. Not to mention, many older adults struggle to find a sense of purpose when they retire. If this is you, this is not unusual – you can check out our resource on what to do if you are feeling useless after retirement.
What Happens If You Don’t Drink Enough Water
Dehydration is simply the state of not having enough fluid in the body to function optimally.
I’m sure you’ve all seen movies featuring some poor soul crawling through a desert yearning for a single drop of water. That’s extremely severe dehydration and not something (hopefully) you’ll ever experience. But even mild cases of dehydration can have a debilitating effect on your mind and body.
As you age, your body’s ability to conserve water reduces, and your sense of thirst may not be as pronounced. This makes seniors more susceptible to dehydration and its associated risks:
- Cognitive impairments: A report by News Medical shows a definite link between dehydration and cognitive decline. For seniors, even mild dehydration can result in noticeable cognitive impairments.
- Physical ailments: Lack of adequate water can lead to urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and constipation. Additionally, it can exacerbate chronic conditions like hypertension and asthma.
- Increased fall risk: Dehydration can cause dizziness and reduced blood pressure, increasing the risk of falls—a significant concern for seniors.
- Mood fluctuations: Just as hydration can boost mood, dehydration can lead to feelings of irritability, anxiety, and general mood disturbances.
- Signs to watch out for: Common signs of dehydration in seniors include dark yellow urine, dry mouth, and throat, rapid heartbeat and breathing, and feelings of extreme fatigue or lethargy.
It’s also worth noting that while feelings of fatigue can be signs of dehydration, your body and mind are of course interconnected. So pay attention to the invisible stuff, too – i.e. your mental health. If fatigue and low mood and energy are unwanted visitors in your current life, check into other contributing factors, including the ones inside our guide on post-retirement fatigue.
Getting Enough Hydration (Safely)
When considering how much water you should drink and where to source it, there are two aspects to consider – quantity and quality.
Caveat: the adage “quantity over quality” doesn’t apply. In the context of staying hydrated and healthy, both quantity and quality are equally important.
As for the quality, tragically, there are well-documented problems with a lot of public water supplies in the US. Sadly, one report commissioned by the Guardian newspaper found that 118 out of 120 water samples had detectable levels of lead. The same report found alarming levels of potentially toxic forever chemicals in 35% of samples and arsenic in 8%.
This underlies the importance of making informed choices for staying hydrated and healthy:
- Tap water: Often the most accessible source, tap water in many areas is treated to meet safety standards. However, as noted above, it’s essential to be aware of local water quality reports. Some regions might have contaminants in public water supplies.
- Bottled water: Convenient and portable, bottled water is a popular choice. While it’s generally safe, it’s worth noting that it’s more expensive in the long run and contributes to plastic waste.
- Filtered water: Investing in a good water filter can ensure the removal of potential contaminants from tap water. It’s an eco-friendly option that provides both safety and taste benefits.
- Water safety concerns: It’s crucial to stay updated on local water advisories. In some parts of the US, issues like lead contamination have raised concerns about tap water safety.
The quantity is much more cut and dry. Each individual has different needs when it comes to determining how much water to drink daily, but the National Council on Aging (NCOA) website has a rule of thumb to follow – one-third of your body weight in fluid ounces. So, for instance, if you weigh 120 lbs, then aim to drink 40 ounces of water daily.
Now that we’ve got quantity and quality covered, let’s head into some easy tips for staying hydrated.
6 Practical Tips for Staying Hydrated
I repeat: staying hydrated is key for both your mental and physical health. But it’s not always straightforward, especially for older adults who might have mobility issues or simply forget to drink water regularly.
With such a strong link between hydration and mental health, though, it’s worth the effort.
To help you stay hydrated more consistently, try to:
- Set a schedule: Just as you might schedule meals or medications, set specific times to drink water throughout the day. This can help make hydration a regular habit.
- Use a measured water bottle: Invest in a water bottle with measurement markings. This can help you track your daily water intake and ensure you’re drinking enough.
- Incorporate hydrating foods: Foods like watermelon, cucumbers, and oranges have high water content. Including them in your diet can be a delicious way to boost hydration.
- Set reminders: Use technology to your advantage. Set alarms or reminders on your phone or smart device to prompt you to drink water. If you’re among the tech-savvy, take it a step further and try setting up QR codes that can give you access to hydration-tracking apps, water intake calculators, and tips on how to stay hydrated.
- Stay informed: Be aware of the signs of dehydration, like dry mouth, dark urine, or fatigue. Recognizing these early can prompt you to increase your water intake.
- Make it tasty: If plain water isn’t appealing, try infused water or adding slices of fruits like lemon or cucumber for a refreshing twist.
It’s easy to drink only when you’re thirsty, but the reality is your body only sends “thirst signals” when it’s already mildly dehydrated – so don’t wait until then. By following the tips above, older adults especially can protect their hydration levels and mental health.
The Last Drop: Why Hydration Is Essential for Good Mental Health
Water is our lifeblood, but it’s so ubiquitous that we often forget just how important it is. And it only becomes increasingly so with each passing year of our lives. It’s not just important for your physical health. As we increasingly discover, it can also play a huge role in supporting your mental well-being.
By staying properly hydrated you can take a simple, yet profound, step to improve your overall mental and physical health – right to the last drop.
What are the hydration recommendations for older adults?
Proper hydration is crucial for elderly individuals. The general recommendation is to aim for at least 8 cups (64 ounces) of water per day. This is typically more than the NC)A’s recommendation above – one-third of your body weight in liquid ounces. But individual needs may vary based on factors such as health conditions and activity levels. Remember, it’s wise to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized hydration guidance.
How can older adults improve their mental health?
Hydration is only one piece of the mental health pie. Older adults can enhance their mental well-being through various strategies. Regular physical activity, social engagement, and maintaining a balanced diet contribute positively. Of course, seeking support from healthcare professionals or counselors can help to manage your mental health.
What are the 3 warning signs of dehydration?
Recognizing signs of dehydration is crucial. Three warning signs include:
- Dark Urine: Dark yellow or amber-colored urine may indicate dehydration.
- Thirst: Increased thirst, often accompanied by a dry mouth, is a common early sign.
- Fatigue: Dehydration can lead to feelings of tiredness and low energy levels.
Promptly addressing these signs by increasing fluid intake is essential to prevent dehydration.
How do you rehydrate a dehydrated older adult?
Rehydrating a dehydrated senior involves gradual and consistent fluid intake. Encourage sips of water throughout the day and consider incorporating hydrating foods like fruits and vegetables. In severe cases, oral rehydration solutions or intravenous fluids may be necessary. As always, seeking guidance from a healthcare professional is advisable.