Don't forget to drink water in the winter

February 22, 2000

On a hot summer day, thoughts easily turn to cooling down with a tall glass of water or iced tea. But if you're like me, it's easy to forget about drinking plenty of fluids when it's frigid outside and a bit drafty inside.

cont. from lifestyle

Dehydration can pose just as much risk in the dead of winter as it can during the warm summer months. While people of all age groups are at risk for dehydration, infants, children and the elderly are at greatest risk.

Dehydration is so common among the elderly that it has been identified as one of the most frequent causes of hospitalization among people older than 65. And it's life-threatening. In one study, half of those hospitalized for dehydration died within a year of admission.

One reason older people are at high risk for dehydration is because the mechanism that normally triggers thirst becomes less sensitive with age. Also, as we age, a lower percentage of our body weight is fluid, so dehydration can occur more rapidly.


Elderly people who live at home are most vulnerable to dehydration, especially when they are ill. In addition to fluid loss from fever or diarrhea, sickness often interferes with normal eating and drinking patterns.

Alcohol also can contribute to dehydration. It takes eight ounces of water to metabolize just one ounce of alcohol. The person who downs a stiff drink on the rocks as a nightcap needs to chase that drink with a large glass of water.

Common symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, headache, dry nasal passages, dry or cracked lips and overall discomfort. However, by the time you become aware of these symptoms, dehydration has long since set in.

What's your best defense? Do a fluid audit on yourself, your family and your elderly friends.

Make sure fluids are readily available and that drinking fluids is part of the usual routine. How much fluid is needed? At least 6 to 8 cups daily, part of which can come from fruit juices, milk, coffee and tea.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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