We all know the real estate mantra for finding the best place to live: “location, location, location.”

Have you considered that a senior’s happy home might be exchanged for a hospital bed in the hot, humid summer months due to dehydration? Let’s change that mantra to “hydration, hydration, hydration!”

Dehydration is simply a lowering of the proper ratio of water in the body to a dangerous point which begins to inhibit functions. Elderly people naturally carry less water, and so they can lose a larger percentage in a relatively shorter amount of time, particularly through sweating. Dehydration causes symptoms of overheating, confusion, rapid heart rate, and other complications that may become serious.

At least half a million preventable hospitalizations occur every year, with seniors and those with complications such as asthma or diabetes topping the at-risk list. According to one study, this serious condition costs Americans nearly 6 billion dollars annually! Let’s examine some practical ways to help you or your elderly loved one stay properly hydrated and minimize risk.

1) Carry water. Many seniors remain active in the garden, cycling, walking, or doing other activities. However, as we age, our sense of thirst diminishes. In addition, by the time you feel thirsty, dehydration has already begun. Make sure to keep a water bottle with ice in it nearby whenever you go outside or travel in the car.

2) Drink a variety of fluids. While the 8-glass-per-day rule is still a good one, you can be creative with how these fluids are received. Watermelon and other juicy fruits can be an excellent source of refreshment, as well as any fruit juice mixed with water. Tea and coffee don’t count since they are diuretics, but even milk is helpful! Carbonated and flavored waters have also become popular and may be a welcome treat for your elderly loved one.

3) Encourage all-day hydration. If you’re giving or taking pills at a certain time of day, that is an excellent time to work in some extra fluids. Small sips throughout the day may be better tolerated than large glasses. You can also reward yourself or your loved one with a special mug or cup that has photos or a favorite design that brings a smile every time it is used!

4) Avoid dehydrators. In addition to coffee and tea, alcohol, sodium, and caffeine can contribute to dehydration. If you are at risk, make some substitutions from the suggestions above.

4) Be alert to symptoms. Keep an eye out for changes in mood, weakness, or dryness of mouth or skin. Have a plan or phone number on hand if any of these symptoms arise. As soon as you remember, grab that glass of water! You’ll be glad you did, and will have a much more relaxing and enjoyable summer.