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How to Avoid Dehydration and Heat Stroke

Article by Christina Lanzito, AARP

“It’s hot out there: In the past few weeks, temperatures in North America have broken sometimes-triple-digit records, including in areas of California, New England and Canada. The heat has caused an estimated 70 deaths in Canada alone.

Those were extreme situations, but there are things everyone should know about staying safe when the weather gets steamy. Dehydration We are quite literally what we drink. Our bodies are mostly (about 60 percent) water, and we can’t live more than a few days without it. There is no universally accepted rule of thumb for how much, exactly, each of us should drink, despite how often we’ve been told to consume eight 8-ounce glasses a day, or 64 ounces total. The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adult men drink about 15 cups (125 ounces) of fluid a day and women 11 cups (91 ounces), but experts say the ideal amount can vary widely depending on factors including a person’s weight, health and activity level.

By the time you’re thirsty, you’re likely to have lost around 1 or 2 percent of your body’s fluid, so a key measure of dehydration is thirst. But this warning system doesn’t always function well in older adults, says Kumar Dharmarajan, a geriatrician and chief scientific officer at San Francisco–based insurer Clover Health, who explains that as people age they are less able to perceive their own thirst, “so when they need water, they’re less likely to respond to it.”

How to tell if you’re dehydrated In addition to thirst, your urine color can indicate dehydration. When urine is dark, it’s a sign that it is more concentrated due to less fluid in your body. “It should look more like lemonade, less like apple juice,” says Luke Belval, director of research at the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute, which focuses on safety in sports. “We’re shooting for that pale, straw-colored urine.”

Another self-evaluation Belval recommends: Weigh yourself every morning. If you find that you’ve lost a pound or two from the day before, you are probably dehydrated — apologies to dieters — “because, in general, gross changes in body mass don’t happen that quickly.”

Signs of more severe dehydration can include a dry mouth, headache, decreased urine output, increased pulse, lack of sweat, irritability, and feeling fatigued, nauseous, lightheaded or dizzy.”

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