Running through sprinklers or just sitting in the shade with a glass of lemonade. Everyone has their favorite way of keeping cool during the dog days of summer. For senior citizens, keeping cool and hydrated is more than just a matter of comfort; it can be a matter of life and death. Dehydration, or the loss of water and salts from the body, is one of the most common forms of heat disease, but it can also occur in humid or cold weather, at high altitudes, or during increased physical exertion. It’s important to know how to recognize dehydration before it becomes a critical health problem.

Unfortunately, the early stages of dehydration do not exhibit symptoms, so you may not recognize that your body is in danger. According to Dawn Kotkiewicz, Director of Nursing at CareOne at Ewing, seniors are at greater risk due to the fact that thirst sensation, sweat production, and the ability to concentrate decline with age. “Dehydration gives general signals that do not become pronounced until the body is approaching the danger point,” says Dawn. “Once a person exhibits symptoms such as thirst, dry mouth, or decreased urine output, the person is already in the moderate stages of dehydration.” If you are mildly dehydrated, simply drinking enough liquid, and eating a typical American diet, which is high in salt, will replace the fluids and electrolytes.

Symptoms of early or mild dehydration include a flushed face, thirst, dry, warm skin, dizziness, weakness, headaches, irritability and a dry mouth. Moderate or severe dehydration symptoms include low blood pressure, fainting, severe muscle contractions, convulsions, a bloated stomach, sunken dry eyes, rapid breathing, a lack of elasticity of the skin, and a fast weak pulse. If someone is exhibiting these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

To avoid dehydration, the experts have come up with a few tips:

– Start drinking plenty of water before activity. Water should be cool, but not ice cold

– Continue to drink through your activity

– Avoid fruit juices or non-diet soft drinks. Sugar can aggravate dehydration and cause bloating and cramps

– Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. They increase dehydration

– Weigh yourself before and after activity. For each pound lost weight, you need to drink a pint of water to replace water lost through sweating.

Not all fluid replacement must come from water. Other drinks consist mostly of water, and foods contain water as well. However, thirst is generally a good guide for when you need to replace fluids, and water is generally the best choice. “Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages are actually dehydrating because they increase urine output, so don’t count on those to replenish fluid loss,” says Kotkiewicz.

CareOne, a privately held healthcare company with facilities throughout New Jersey, offers an uncompromising continuum of care with a commitment to excellence as displayed through a variety of superior programs and services. CareOne offers After-Hospital Care, Short-Term Rehabilitation, and Long-Term Living, as well as Respite Care and Memory Care services.

CareOne at Hamilton, 1660 Whitehorse-Hamilton Square Road, Hamilton. 609-586-4600, fax 609-587-4500.

CareOne at Ewing, 1201 Parkway Avenue, Ewing. 609-882-6900, fax 609-671-3910.

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