Fact Sheet: Water: Fountain of Life

Water is the largest single substance in the human body (from 50% to 75%) and we can't live without it. Every body cell, tissue, organ, and nearly every life-sustaining body process requires water. While water is very important to health, the vital fluid is often overlooked in diets - with life-threatening consequences for older adults.

Why is water important?

What happens when you don't drink enough water?

Not consuming enough fluids and/or foods that contain water can lead to dehydration, which is a serious medical condition that often requires hospitalization. The first sign of dehydration is usually thirst, which generally occurs when you have already experienced a 1% to 2% loss of body water. Many older people, however, have a diminished sense of thirst, and may be seriously dehydrated before they experience this warning.

Another easy to check, early sign of dehydration is the color of your urine. It should be clear or pale yellow. Darker urine may indicate you are not meeting your fluid needs.

Other symptoms include:

Why are older adults more susceptible to dehydration?

Maintaining adequate fluids is crucial for those over age 60 because dehydration is one of the most frequent causes of hospitalization for the elderly. Approximately half of those hospitalized for dehydration die within a year.

What can I do to meet my needs for water?

Make sure your intake of fluids is 48 to 64 ounces per day. That's a minimum of six 8-ounce glasses per day. In addition to water, (which is absorbed faster than any other beverage and is calorie free) consider these other sources of fluids:

Because caffeine and alcohol act as diuretics in the body and increase water loss, beverages such as coffee, tea, liquor and some soft drinks will not contribute to your fluid intake. These should be consumed in moderation.

Be especially careful about maintaining adequate fluid intake in the following situations:

Eat foods high in water content, have water available at all times, or with illness, try sucking on ice chips.

Other ways to meet your water needs:

What about incontinence?

Urinary incontinence can become a serious problem as we age. It can have significant medical and social consequences. The problem is estimated to affect as many as 30% of older adults and is more prevalent in women than men.

If you are one of the people who don't drink enough fluids because you fear embarrassing bladder control situations:

Never forget that dehydration is a much worse fate than embarrassment. Dehydration can kill you, while embarrassment can't. Staying home for fear of embarrassment just isolates you, which can lead to poor health and earlier death.

There are a variety of treatment options for urinary incontinence depending upon the condition causing it. Some treatment methods can be as simple as pelvic muscle exercises. Your doctor can help you select the treatment that is right for you.