Watching for Signs of Dehydration in Your Elderly Loved One

Watching for Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration is a condition which can cause problems in the young an elderly alike. In its milder forms it is generally simply an annoyance; however, in its most severe stages it can cause serious health problems and even death.

Because of this it is important to watch your elderly loved one closely for signs of dehydration so that the condition may be addressed before it becomes too severe. Here are some of the more common signs of dehydration and what you may do to address it.

Mild dehydration. Mild dehydration is fairly common among children, adults, and elderly alike. It is easy to become mildly hydrated; fortunately it is just as easy to address the issue. Some signs of mild dehydration are:

  • If your elderly loved one is acting more sluggish than usual, this may be a sign that there is some mild dehydration involved. If he or she is unable to tell you he or she feels, you can still observe his or her mannerisms to determine whether he or she may be experiencing increased sleepiness.
  • Decreased urine production. If your elderly loved one typically produces a certain amount of urine, but suddenly drops off in production, this may mean the body is trying to conserve water by producing less urine, and your loved one may be mildly dehydrated.
  • A headache is one of the most common signs of mild dehydration. Fortunately, it will resolve itself fairly quickly once you have brought your elderly loved one’s hydration levels back to normal.
  • Dry skin. If you notice abnormally dry skin—or skin that looks cracked and red—this may be a symptom of mild dehydration. The epidermis requires a certain amount of fluid in order to maintain its normal appearance; when hydration levels fall one of the most obvious visual indicators is the condition of the skin.
  • A sudden and inexplicable inability to void the bowels may mean that your elderly loved one is suffering from dehydration. When the body’s water levels are low, it may respond by pulling more fluid than normal out of solid waste before it leaves the large intestine.
  • Dizzy or lightheaded sensation is another common sign a mildly dehydrated person will exhibit. Although your elderly loved one may not be able to vocalize when he or she is feeling dizzy, you can generally tell through close observation whether his or her equilibrium is off or not.

Fortunately, mild dehydration is relatively simple to treat: simply drink more fluids. If your elderly loved one increases his or her fluid intake, this should resolve itself within a few hours.

Severe dehydration. Severe dehydration is more serious and is frequently considered a medical emergency. If your elderly loved one exhibits one or more of the following symptoms—or if you have any other reason to believe that he or she may be experiencing severe dehydration—you should seek medical attention immediately.

  • Skin tenting. If you pinch the skin and it does not quickly return to its normal position this is a condition known as a “skin tenting.” This is a sign that the fluids in the body could be dangerously low.
  • If your elderly loved one who typically a responds when you talk to him or her, suddenly becomes unresponsive after a period of drinking many fluids, this may be a sign of severe dehydration.
  • Fever or delirium. An unexplained fever, or a delirious state of mind, are both signs that your elderly loved one could be severely dehydrated.

You should be aware that if your elderly loved one is taking certain types of medications, these medications may cause him or her to lose more fluids than usual. You should closely monitor your loved one when he or she is on any type of medication.


By closely observing your elderly loved one, you can have a good idea of when he or she may be dehydrated. Although mild dehydration is nothing to be too concerned about, you need to be very cautious and seek immediate medical attention if you have any reason to believe that your loved one may be seriously dehydrated.



The Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions: Dehydration. Available at Last visited November 5, 2015.