Hydration and the dangers of dehydration

Last updated

Hydration is very important for the human body to function. It helps support good health including regulating your body temperature, absorbing important nutrients, protecting your organs, and moving your joints smoothly.

Key points

  • Hydration is fundamental to a healthy mind and body
  • It’s important that you know the signs of dehydration so that you can keep yourself hydrated and healthy
  • Eating water-rich foods is one of the best ways to hydrate yourself

Sixty percent of our body is made of water and it is vital to keep those levels up by drinking enough and eating water-enriched foods. However, people with disability can struggle to stay hydrated as their bodies may have difficulty retaining water, or they may have difficulty knowing when they are dehydrated.

Through natural daily activities, adults lose up to nearly 2.5 litres of water a day. If the weather is hot you can lose even more fluid.

Dehydration can have a much more deadly impact on a person with disability if their body is susceptible to dehydration as it affects the brain’s functioning ability.

Some medications, and some conditions such as diabetes and depression, can increase the risk of dehydration.

Signs of dehydration

Having adequate fluid in your body is important to continue pumping blood through to vital organs.

There are a few easy-to-notice signs of dehydration that you should take note of, especially because dehydration can lead to more serious medical episodes.

The most common signs or symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Thirstiness
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Muscle weakness and cramps
  • Cracked lips
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Forgetfulness and confusion
  • Deep rapid breathing or an increased heart rate or low blood pressure
  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry or sticky mucus around and in the mouth
  • Low urination
  • Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

The more serious medical episodes caused by dehydration include:

  • Psychosis or delirium (most common causes of delirium are dehydration and infection, a UTI is considered an infection)
  • Heat injuries including heat stroke
  • Urinary and kidney problems
  • Seizures
  • Low blood volume shock (hypovolemic shock)
  • Extreme dehydration can lead to death

Make sure you take a refillable water bottle with you everywhere. This could be in a bag or, if you use a wheelchair or motorised scooter, you could get a drink bottle holder to put your water in.

If a water bottle is not any easy way for you to carry water or is difficult for you to drink from, you could use a hydration pack, which is a bladder filled with water that you drink out of through a connected straw or hose. These are really popular with hikers, although anyone can use them, because they store easily in a backpack and don’t require you to stop moving to be able to drink water – so they can be more accessible than a water bottle.

Drink water throughout the day, not just at meal times.

Your body will absorb water which is room temperature or tap water temperature better than cold water.

If drinking water is too difficult or you’ve had so much water that you need an incentive to keep hydrating, swap some of your water with alternatives.

To encourage hydration, instead drink cordials (mixed in with water), fruit or vegetable juices – but only about one cup a day as these are high in sugar. Milk can also be a substitute for some of your water intake, though too much flavoured milk can be unhealthy, and you can change up the temperature of drinks (like non-caffeinated tea or cooling homemade lemonade).

If you just need a different flavour in your regular water, try adding mint leaves or a slice of lemon to change the taste without making the drink unhealthy.

Additionally, a lot of our consumption of water comes from a variety of fruit and vegetables. Eating water-rich foods can be another way to keep your hydration at steady levels. For example, cucumbers are 96 percent water, and other vegetables, like tomato, spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are also water-rich.

Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks and alcohol, as they can dehydrate you.

Keep a journal to track your fluid intake or even set a reminder on your phone to drink water, it can give you the kick you need to rehydrate. There are also mobile phone apps which can help and water bottles with times stamped at points along the side to remind you to take a drink at those times.

Even if you don’t feel thirsty, if you haven’t consumed water for a while it might be a good idea to take a break and get a drink. By the time you’re thirsty, your body is already dehydrated.

Do you have any tips for staying hydrated that you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:
Top healthy eating tips for people with disability
Diet and nutrition support through the NDIS