Feeling dehydrated? Here's what's happening in your body

Dehydration is so common among over 60s, yet some people are not aware of the dire consequences – and the damage it can have on your body and health.

In this crazy weather across Australia, it can be much easier to become dehydrated so it’s important that we keep an eye on our fluid intake.

If you needed a wake up call to really drink more water, here’s what happens to your body when you are dehydrated:

According to research, by the time you feel thirsty your body is already dehydrated. This is because our thirst mechanism lags behind our actual level of hydration. Even 1% dehydration negatively affects your mood, attention, memory and motor coordination.

Then, as you lose water through urination and sweating, your blood becomes more concentrated and you urinate less. When your dehydrated body is pushed to its limits, the risk of exhaustion or collapse increases, which is worrying for over 60s.

When you’re dehydrated, your body is battling and making blood thicker because its borrowing water. The brain senses this and triggers the feeling of thirst, which usually makes you want some water, though as we mentioned above, by then it can be too late.

Unfortunately, as we get older, we don’t often feel thirsty, even though we are. This means we can forget to drink some water and stay hydrated, and can – in some cases – end up in hospital.

As we get older, our kidneys aren’t as good at removing toxins from our blood, therefore our kidneys aren’t as efficient, so we lose more water than we used to.

So how much should you drink? Contrary to some health information, you don’t need to have 8 glasses of water – according to the Institute of Medicine, the adequate water intake for adult men and women is 3.7 and 2.7 litres per day, respectively.

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Symptoms of dehydration

Mild dehydration:
  • Dryness of mouth; dry tongue with thick saliva
  • Unable to urinate or pass only small amounts of urine; dark or deep yellow urine
  • Cramping in limbs
  • Headaches
  • Crying but with few or no tears
  • Weakness, general feeling of being unwell
  • Sleepiness or irritability
More serious dehydration:
  • Low blood pressure
  • Convulsions
  • Severe cramping and muscle contractions in limbs, back and stomach
  • Bloated stomach
  • Rapid but weak pulse
  • Dry and sunken eyes with few or no tears
  • Wrinkled skin; no elasticity
  • Breathing faster than normal

How to stay hydrated

It’s really important that older people are well aware of the signs and symptoms of dehydration. If any signs or symptoms of dehydration are present, it is best to start treatment as soon as possible and seek medical attention.

  • Be well aware of signs and symptoms of dehydration
  • Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water
  • Avoid alcohol or drinks with caffeine because of its diuretic effect
  • Use sports drink or electrolyte drinks to quickly replenish lost supply
  • Consume fluids on a regular basis
  • Consume fluids at routine events, such as before or after showering
  • Try to consume wet foods such as jelly and custard, as these add to the daily fluid volume
  • Remember your fluid intake: 100 mL fluid per kg body weight for first 10 kg, 50 mL fluid per kg body weight for next 10 kg, 15 mL fluid per kg body weight for each kg after 20 kg – so someone weighing 80kg will need to drink 2.4L of fluid a day

Have you ever been dehydrated? What happened?