Hydration May Help Active Seniors Improve Cognition

Many older adults are taking proactive measures to stay mentally sharp as they age; eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and challenging their brains by learning a new skill, reading or playing sudoku. But one important piece of the puzzle may be lacking, staying properly hydrated.

According to a recent study by the American Physiological Society, middle aged and older adults often do not perceive thirst in the same way a younger person does, putting them at greater risk for dehydration which has been shown to impair brain function.  Exercise has been demonstrated to improve cognitive health but older adults who are already dehydrated before they participate in physical activity may suffer cognitive fatigue.  Researchers found that older study participants improved their ability to quickly and accurately complete an executive function “trail-making” test after exercise.  Those who were well hydrated saw a significantly greater improvement in cognitive abilities compared to participants who were dehydrated.

To fully reap the full cognitive benefits of exercise, researchers suggest that older adults should ensure they are drinking an adequate amount of fluids throughout the day.  Seniors often don’t get enough fluids each day and can become dehydrated more easily due to medication side effect (diuretics), decreased thirst, decreased kidney function or illness.  Dehydration can have serious side effects and can lead to confusion, weakness, urinary tract infections, pneumonia or in severe cases, death.

Older adults can boost their fluid intake by sipping water throughout the day but consuming low fat soups, fruits, juices and decaffeinated tea or coffee can also help older adults ensure they are not dehydrated.   Water helps digest food, absorb nutrients and rid the body of unused waste. Talk with your doctor about urinary control problems and treatment but don’t stop drinking liquids for this reason.

To read more about the APS study, presented recently at the Experimental Biology annual meeting, follow this link to the APS website.