STILLWATER, Okla. – As steamy summer temperatures make themselves at home across Oklahoma, drinking plenty of fluids is crucial to successfully beating the heat, and it is especially important for older adults, who are at increased risk for dehydration.

In fact, water is more critical to life than food, said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.

“Every chemical process in the body needs water to work properly,” she said. “That means everything from digesting food to absorbing nutrients to excreting the waste only works when you get enough fluids.”

Generally, older adults are advised to try for 6 to 8 cups each day, which can come from water, milk, juice and other beverages.

However, when it is hot, humid, even more fluid is necessary. Generally, 2 cups replenishes each 1-pound loss of fluids. During outdoor activities that last an hour or less, plain cool water works best because the body can absorb it quickly, while juices, soft drinks and liquids with more than 8 percent sugar could lead to cramps and diarrhea. Most sports drinks contain about 7 percent sugar, which is about half the amount of sugar in regular soft drinks.

In the case of longer stints spent outside, the recommendation bumps up to 2 to 3 cups of fluid about two hours before the activity begins, an additional 1 to 2 cups 15 minutes before and 6 to 8 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes or 2 to 3 cups every hour during the activity.

If the activity lasts more than an hour and perspiration occurs, Hermann warned that water actually might not be enough.

“Even if a person is drinking fluid, if they’ve lost electrolytes through perspiration, it can still lead to dehydration,” she said. “In those cases, consuming a combination of water and fluids with electrolytes such as Gatorade® or Powerade® will help restore the body’s water balance.”

Figuring out ways to incorporate water and other fluids throughout the day – not just at mealtimes – makes reaching that goal far more doable, Hermann said. For instance, sip water, milk or juice between bites when eating or enjoy a cup of low-fat soup for a snack.

No matter how people choose to get their fluids in, the trick is to make sure it happens. Falling short could be potentially life threatening, especially when the mercury in the thermometer skyrockets. Just a 5 percent loss of water in the body can lead to heat exhaustion, and a 10 percent loss can result in heat stroke or circulatory collapse. Dehydrated older adults run a higher risk of urinary tract infections, pneumonia, pressure ulcers, confusion and disorientation.

There are multiple reasons older adults are at increased risk of dehydration, including decreasing body water due to age and medications that leach water from the system. Also, the thirst sensation decreases with age, meaning older adults often underestimate how much they should drink, and end up shorting themselves on fluid intake.

“Sometimes older adults do not drink enough fluids because they are incontinent and have trouble making it to the restroom in time, they are bed-ridden or in a wheelchair and have a hard time reaching fluids, or they have less strength so lifting a glass of water is tough for them to manage,” Hermann said.

Keeping fluids within easy reach, using smaller, lighter cups or glasses and sipping from a straw are all sound strategies for getting around hurdles to older adults staying hydrated.

“The bottom line is everyone needs to make sure they get enough fluids, but older adults are more vulnerable,” she said. “Especially when it comes to water, think of it as a good way to add fluids without spending the calories.”  


Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer. 

Leilana McKindra
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
140 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-6792
Fax: 405-744-5739
Email: [email protected]

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