Date: February 27, 2024

Author: Pete Imbesi

Electrolytes are important for keeping your body functioning normally. Staying properly hydrated, regulating chemical reactions, and maintaining proper muscle function all require the right balance of electrolytes.

Under normal circumstances, electrolytes for elderly adults typically remain properly balanced. However, natural byproducts of aging or stressful conditions like prolonged dehydration can lead to electrolyte imbalance in the elderly, putting them at higher risk for issues like hyponatremia, hypernatremia, volume depletion, volume overload, hyperkalemia, and metabolic acidosis. In this article, we’ll explore what causes electrolyte imbalance in seniors, which electrolyte imbalance symptoms elderly adults may experience, and how you can help replenish electrolytes for seniors.

What Causes Electrolyte Imbalance in the Elderly?

Electrolyte imbalances generally occur because the body has either too much or too little water. However, seniors are overall more susceptible to dehydration and, in turn, electrolyte imbalances because of a number of factors:

The most common electrolyte abnormalities in elderly adults are called “dysnatremias” — hypernatremia, which occurs when the concentration of sodium in your blood is abnormally high, and hyponatremia, which occurs when the concentration of sodium in your blood is abnormally low. Studies have shown age may be an independent risk factor for both hyponatremia and hypernatremia because as we age, muscle mass is replaced by fat, which causes our total body water to be decreased. This increases the risk for electrolyte imbalance in senior adults.

It is worth noting that reduced thirst and water intake or a sudden increase in appetite in elderly adults are common, even in healthy seniors, but these changes may place them at higher risk for dangerous dehydration, especially if they become ill. As a result, it is key for caregivers to carefully monitor food and water intake to ensure proper nutrition and hydration. Consider over-the-counter solutions like Pedialyte for seniors who don’t drink enough water.

Electrolyte Imbalance Symptoms Elderly Adults May Exhibit

Electrolyte imbalance symptoms seniors will experience may vary depending on both the severity of the imbalance and type of electrolyte. Common symptoms include:

  • Confusion or disorientation

  • Irritability

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Irregular or fast heart rate

  • Muscle cramps, spasms, or weakness

  • Numbness

Electrolyte-Rich Foods and Drinks

The best way for the elderly to avoid an electrolyte imbalance is to ensure proper hydration and nutrition. To ensure seniors are getting the electrolytes they need, prepare foods that are naturally high in electrolytes and provide electrolyte drinks.

Foods rich in electrolytes include:

  • Potassium: Bananas, beet greens, salmon, white beans, avocado, potatoes, milk, mushrooms

  • Sodium: Dill pickles, clams, table salt, cheese, dry-roasted sunflower seeds

  • Magnesium: Spinach, pumpkin seeds, lima beans, tuna, brown rice, almonds

  • Phosphorous: Yellowfin tuna, tofu, milk, chicken, scallops, pumpkin seeds, quinoa

  • Calcium: Milk, cheese, spinach, tofu, yogurt, okra, trout, acorn squash

    Download Our FREE Healthy Aging Diet Guide

A slight electrolyte imbalance may not cause noticeable changes, so caregivers looking to avoid electrolyte imbalance in seniors should first and foremost keep an eye out for common signs of dehydration:

  • Excessive thirst

  • Dry mouth, lips, and/or tongue

  • Inability to produce tears

  • Infrequent urination

  • Dark-colored urine (ideally, urine should be almost colorless)

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Confusion or disorientation

  • Low blood pressure

If you’re concerned your senior may be experiencing an electrolyte imbalance, contact their primary care physician and request an electrolyte panel to measure levels and identify the cause of the imbalance. Treating electrolyte imbalances is a relatively easy process and your senior loved one will quickly notice the improvement.


Date: February 27, 2024

Author: Pete Imbesi

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