Why is it that some people have a normal sense of thirst and drink enough water throughout the day and others don’t have the urge to drink at all?
And more importantly…why don’t the elderly feel thirsty?
So what actually allows us to feel thirsty? It comes from either a low volume of fluids in the body or a higher concentration of certain osmolites, such as sodium. Certain receptors (osmoreceptors) situated in the brain are stimulated by an increase in plasma concentration and causes us to fell thirsty. When the body loses water, it is depleted from both the extracellular and intracellular compartments, but it may not be lost equally from each of those spaces. Regardless of whether the depletion is from the intra- or extracellular compartment, our bodies have a range of compensitory mechanisms that respond. These responses involve certain hormones (Vasopressin), stimulation of certain systems in the kidney to conserve water and sympathetic activation that minimizes changes in body fluid volume and composition mechanism of thirst . These mechanisms are amazing, but they don’t restore body fluids to their original state. For that to happen we have to drink! So when the elderly don’t feel thirsty, it’s important to find ways to help them drink.
Thirst is not always a reliable indicator of dehydration or the bodies need for water. Many people, especially the elderly don’t feel thirsty until they’re already dehydrated. There are many causes for lack of thirst sensation:
- As we age, the amount of fluid volume in our body decreases.
- The thirst response in older people becomes weaker, so they may not know they need to drink.
- The elderly have a decrease in kidney function plus they may be on mediations that lead to more fluid loss, such as diuretics. Dehydration can lead to constipation, electrolyte imbalance, kidney problems, headaches and loss of balance.
Other causes for lack of thirst could be that you are dehydrated and just don’t feel thirsty as dehydration progresses. Your body fails to send signals to your throat and mouth to tell you to drink. Certain illnesses can also reduce the thirst reflex. Diabetes, physical exhaustion and mental disorders are a few examples.
We may also forget to drink due to being too busy, stressed and not paying attention. We know that stress, which stimulates adrenaline (in addition to too much coffee!) can decrease our appetite and sensation of thirst. It can become a bad habit and our bodies can sometimes adapt to this habit.
But the importance of hydration cannot be understated. We need adequate fluids to flush toxins, reduce muscle cramps and headaches, help our mood and energy, think clearly, have healthy skin and hair and improve sleep. Sometimes we can be dehydrated and have nausea so we don’t want to drink or eat and can feel agitated, moody, lethargic and confused.
Needless to say…let’s be more conscious of our drinking habits and stay hydrated.
Suggestions: Drink electrolyte fluids such as sports drinks or electrolyte powders that you put in water. Sparkling water, low sugar fruit juices are helpful if you don’t like the taste of water or mixing water with fruit juice. Reduce tea, coffee and alcohol as they have a diuretic effect. Take small sips instead of large amounts of water all at once.
References: www.next-health.com, news. March 17, 2022. Next Health Staff.
Clevelandclinic.org. Health Essentials. Drink Up: Dehydration is an often overlooked Health Risk for Seniors. Nov 29, 2018.