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Anatomy 101


Ned Zallik, M.D.
Dehydration is among the top 10 reasons older patients are admitted to hospitals, according to a study by Tufts University. This statistic is particularly disheartening because dehydration is completely preventable. 

To understand dehydration in older adults, it is important to understand the body as it ages. In addition to the obvious ailments that usually accompany the aging process, the body’s thirst mechanism begins to diminish. Most older adults lose their sensation of thirst, so they fail to drink enough water and become dehydrated. 

To make matters worse, this happens at a time when the body naturally begins to lose fluids. By the age of 85, the body’s fluids drop by 10 percent, so more fluids must be introduced to keep the body in fluid balance. 

When we are dehydrated, the heart must work harder, the kidneys operate inefficiently, and we can become seriously ill, or worse. 

As a gerontologist, I understand why some seniors are reluctant to drink their eight glasses of water a day (with the exception of seniors with certain health conditions that preclude large consumption of water). Incontinence and the increased frequency to eliminate fluids is a concern. But it need not be. 

We have found that, with the exception of certain health conditions, drinking the appropriate amount of water daily can greatly enhance overall health. 
Drinking sufficient water each day helps regulate the kidneys so the need for frequent elimination of fluids can be controlled. By drinking enough water, the kidneys can relax, thus enhancing their efficiency.

"Water also acts as a lubricant for joints, and protects and cushions tissues and vital organs." 

If water retention is a problem, drinking enough water each day can actually help address this problem. When the body senses it doesn’t have enough liquid, it holds on to every drop, leading to water retention. When the body is in fluid balance, excess water is eliminated. 

Water also acts as a lubricant for joints, and protects and cushions tissues and vital organs. 

While the idea of drinking eight eight-ounce glasses of water during the day might seem difficult, nutritionists recommend creating a daily schedule. Drink a glass after breakfast, one before lunch, etc. This makes it easy to consume the appropriate amount. You might want to track your water consumption so that you ensure that you drink enough water. Ask your physician about the amount of water that is right for you. 

Ned I. Zallik, M.D. is an internist and geriatric physician with a practice in Skokie, Illinois. He is Medical Director of Rush North Shore Alzheimer’s Disease Center and is Section Director for Geriatrics at Rush North Shore Medical Center in Skokie.


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Revised: July 31, 2015.