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In January 2023, a study published in The Lancet reaffirmed the importance of hydration to both daily life and long-term health.
Researchers at the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute reviewed data collected from nearly 16,000 individuals ages 45 to 66 over 25 years. Their analysis used serum sodium to approximate hydration habits. Normal sodium levels typically range between 136 and 145 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Sodium content above (hypernatremia) and below (hyponatremia) that range is an indication of a sodium/water imbalance.
To estimate the relative speed of aging, the researchers calculated the biological age from age-dependent biomarkers and assessed risks of chronic diseases and premature mortality.
Researchers discovered middle-aged participants whose serum sodium exceeded 142 mmol/L were at a higher risk of being biologically older, developing chronic diseases and dying at younger age. Increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease was also evident for participants whose serum levels were below 136 mmol/L.
Adults who stay well-hydrated – with a serum sodium range of 138 to 142 mmol/L – appeared to be healthier, develop fewer chronic conditions and live longer than those who did not maintain a sufficient fluid balance.
Adults who stay well-hydrated … appeared to be healthier, develop fewer chronic conditions and live longer than those who did not maintain a sufficient fluid balance.
Most people don’t get enough hydration
By some estimates, only 22% of Americans have an adequate fluid intake and meet the USDA-recommended amount. Fortunately, the body is adept at rebounding from short-term hydration deficit or excess.
Usually, as people get dehydrated, they feel thirsty and reverse that mild hypernatremia by drinking water or an electrolyte-containing sports drink.
If there’s too much water in the body, the brain sends a signal to the kidneys that allow for urination to relieve the hyponatremia. However, more severe cases may require medical care.
Getting (and staying) hydrated on the go
The study serves as a reminder of how taking time for simple self-care now can benefit your long-term health as a caregiver. If you’re constantly attending to the needs of family, friends and your community, it’s sometimes hard to prioritize your own health.
… taking time for simple self-care now can benefit your long-term health as a caregiver.
Fortunately, adequate hydration can be conquered or improved with a just little planning and some thoughtful meal prep. For example: With their combination of fresh fruits, greens and dairy, smoothies can provide both nutrition and hydration for caregivers on the go. Soups – both hot and cold – also provide a high concentration of liquid as well as protein.
Managing a fluid situation
So, how much do you have to drink a day? While everything from athletics to alcohol ingestion can affect the amount of ideal water, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined an adequate daily fluid intake for adults in a temperate climate to be:
- About 15.5 cups of fluids a day for men
- About 11.5 cups of fluids a day for women
Those guidelines include fluid from water, other beverages and foods, which typically comprise 20% of your daily fluid intake with a healthy diet.
While most healthy adults can stay hydrated by drinking fluids whenever they feel thirsty, you might need to modify your total fluid intake based on:
- Exercise – If you participate in activities that make you sweat, you need to drink more water to cover fluid loss. Be sure to drink water before, during and after a workout.
- Environment – High altitudes and hot or humid weather can make you sweat and require additional fluid to fend off dehydration.
- Overall health – Some prescription medications – as well as common medical conditions such as colds, flu or urinary tract infections – can cause your body to lose fluids. Drink more water or follow your doctor’s recommendation for oral rehydration solutions.
Looking beyond liquid assets
When it comes to preventing dehydration, alternative fluids – other than alcohol – are better than no fluids at all. In a pinch, iced tea, milk, sports drinks or even soft drinks contain a moderate-to-high water content and can still help in hydration.
It’s not all about liquids, however. While not a true replacement for water, these high-water content foods also provide supplemental hydration:
- Plain yogurt
Importance of hydration for older adults
While the study emphasized the long-term benefits of hydration in middle-aged adults, proper hydration of older adults is also important. Insufficient hydration in older adults is associated with higher mortality rates, along with increased incidence of:
- Bone fractures
- Fast heart rate (tachycardia)
For older adults, the National Council on Aging recommends this formula: Divide your body weight by three. Then, drink that number of ounces in fluids. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, aim to drink 50 ounces of water each day.
The reasons for the increased likelihood of dehydration in older adults range from gradual decrease of the body’s ability to store fluid efficiently, decrease in the sensation of thirst and changes due to medication. Those issues are often compounded with mobility issues that prevent many seniors from getting up to get a drink, worries about incontinence and swallowing issues. That’s why it’s so important for caregivers to spot the signs of dehydration before it escalates into a life-threatening condition.
However, too much fluid can be dangerous for older adults with thyroid disease or kidney, liver or heart problems, as well as for anyone taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, opiate pain medications and some antidepressants. So, always check with a doctor before making dramatic changes.
Sometimes, it can be especially difficult to ensure sufficient increased fluid consumption for individuals with dementia. Depending on the situation and under a physician’s guidance, mobile IVs, hydration drops and other measures may be a consideration.