December 9, 2011

INDIA: More dehydration cases among elderly with onset of winter

NEW DELHI / The Times of India / Delhi / December 9, 2011

Elderly need warmth & care to fight winter blues

By Durgesh Nandan Jha, Times News Network 

Ever since her emergency bypass surgery early this year, 71-year-old Shalini Sharma had been extremely careful about her diet and medication. But last week, she collapsed while getting ready for an evening walk. Doctors at the hospital reported she was severely dehydrated.

"I didn't realize that I was not drinking enough water. My tea and coffee intake had gone up due to the fall in temperature. I often felt weak and lazy but I thought it was due to the weather,'' said Sharma, who was restored with fruit juice and lime water.

Cases of dehydration among the elderly have risen with the onset of winter. Doctors say people generally drink less water in the cold weather, which leads to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. In senior citizens who are on medication for blood pressure, diabetes and other long-term ailments, this condition can even prove fatal.

Other health problems like hypothermia, slips and falls, flu and depression also peak among the elderly during winter. "A woman brought her mother to our hospital with the complaint of incoherent speech. We found her sodium level had gone down due to less salt intake because of skipped meals. It caused nutritional imbalance and further resulted in incoherent behaviour and depression," said Dr Aasha Sharma, head of the gynaecology department at Rockland Hospital.

"Family members, particularly children, should spend time with elderly people because less activity and restricted outings make them depressed and they don't feel like eating. Increased fluid intake and protein rich food help," Dr Sharma said.

Dr JC Suri, head of the department of respiratory medicine at Safdarjung Hospital, said the elderly are at higher risk of complications, such as pneumonia, from seasonal influenza. "Early morning walks can be postponed by two hours, till it gets warmer. Family members should ensure that they are adequately dressed for the cold - heads should be covered and socks are a must. Old people have weak lungs and many of them suffer from asthma and chronic bronchitis. Such patients should not be allowed to go out in foggy weather," he said.

"If there is coughing, yellow sputum, chest pain, chest discomfort, shortness of breath and fever, the patient should be taken to a doctor," Suri added. Doctors also advise annual vaccination for pneumonia and flu.

"Healthy massage and simple exercise for joints can help relieve age-related arthritis or pain in the joints, which aggravates during winter. In the cold weather, bones get stiff, leading to slips and falls. To avoid this, walkways must be well lit and the surface should be even. Assistance can make seniors feel much more confident and safe," said Dr Raju Vaishya, senior orthopedic surgeon at Apollo Hospital.

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