Health aspects of low sodium levels in our elderly
Low sodium levels, clinically referred to as hyponatremia, is often a common accompaniment of old age. It is a condition where the blood sodium levels drop dangerously below the normal level. This condition can also arise, when you have too much of water in your body. Either of the conditions mentioned can cause hyponatremia. According to a study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, hyponatremia occurs when the blood sodium levels fall below 120mEq/L.
Sodium – as an essential electrolyte
Even though sodium has always been the major cause behind high blood pressure, little did we know that this electrolyte is essential for the healthy functioning of our body. Sodium plays a pivotal role in the proper cognitive functioning of older adults.
Functions of sodium in your body.
Sodium helps in regulating the communication between the various nerves of the body. Thus assisting in appropriate nerve functioning.
Sodium is also necessary for muscle contraction. It acts as an electrolyte (a mineral that carries an electrical charge).
- Sodium helps in facilitating cell permeability.
- Acts as an important electrolyte for maintaining fluid balance.
- Plays a pivotal role in maintaining blood pressure.
- It’s necessary for proper heart functioning and maintaining the heart beat.
- Sodium also facilitates the absorption of amino acids, glucose and galactose.
Symptoms of Low Sodium Levels
Low sodium levels, even though mild, can cause cognitive disturbances in our elderly. Mild hyponatremia, a common problem, was never thought to be a problematic condition for our elderly until research gave us a few shocking revelations. Recent studies show that mild hyponaetremia can cause:
- Gait disturbances
- Attention deficit
- Cardiovascular events
- Premature death
When sodium levels drop beyond a certain level, the elderly can experience the following signs and symptoms:
- Nausea accompanied by vomiting
- Confusion, drowsiness, and disorientation
These are usually the first signs of hyponaetremia. These symptoms, however, may also present as symptoms of other neurological diseases, namely Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia. In these conditions, the actual problem of low sodium levels may often go unnoticed. Therefore, if you notice that your loved one is experiencing the following symptoms, you need to get their sodium levels checked.
Headaches occur as a result of fluid build-up in the brain tissues. A small drop in blood levels may not cause headaches. However, if your elderly loved one is complaining of headaches, it could indicate that their sodium levels have dropped below the normal values.
Irritability and Restlessness
Respiratory Arrest and Coma
These are the signs of severe hyponatremia. When the sodium levels become low, then the brain tends to swell, indicating a medical emergency.
Other symptoms of hyponatremia include the following:
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Causes of low sodium in the elderly
There are various factors that can cause hyponatremia in the elderly include the following:
Certain medications, which are diuretic in nature can cause sodium levels to drop beyond the normal range. In addition, if your elderly loved one is on antidepressants or is taking pain killers for a long time, that can also cause hyponatremia. These medications can also interfere with the normal functioning of the kidneys.
Conditions that cause dehydration, such as vomiting and diarrhea, can cause your body to lose electrolytes, like sodium.
- Syndrome of inappropriate anti–diuretic hormone (SIADH)
SIADH, is a condition, wherein the body produces high levels of anti–diuretic hormone. This condition causes the kidneys to retain water, instead of allowing them to excrete it out of your body.
- Drinking excessive water
When you drink excessive water, you are essentially overwhelm the kidneys of its function to excrete water.
- Underlying disease conditions
Various disease conditions such as heart, liver and kidney problems, can also cause the sodium levels to fall below normal. This is so because, congestive heart failure, or disease affecting the kidney and liver, can cause accumulation of water in the body. Which in turn dilutes the sodium, affecting its concentration in the blood.
- Addison’s disease
Addision’s disease, also known as adrenal gland insufficiency. This can affect the ability of the adrenal gland to produce hormones. The insufficient production of hormones. Disrupts the body’s ability to maintain the balance between the electrolytes (sodium and potassium) and water.
Tug of war between fluid intake and sodium
As you age your body undergoes several changes. Of these changes poor maintenance of fluid and sodium balance happens is the most prominent. There are several reasons that cause the fluid and sodium balance to be disturbed. These include:
Our elderly loved ones are usually on several medications due to various ailments they suffer from. If they take diuretics, they can cause excess fluid to be excreted out of the body. This can disrupt the fluid balance.
- Decreased thirst
This happens to be a common phenomenon in older people, as they are less likely to feel thirsty and drink water. This can drastically cause them to drink less water than what their body needs.
- Fluid content in the body
Usually, the elderly have less fluid content as compared to their younger counterparts. The elderly have only 45% fluid content as compared to younger individuals with 60% fluid content. As a result, a small shift in sodium levels, can cause serious consequences, severely disrupting the fluid-to-sodium balance.
- Alterations in kidney functioning
It is a known fact, that aging causes changes in organ functioning. As a result, the kidneys are not be able to retain as much water. In addition, electrolytes from the urine cause more water to get excreted out of the body. Such a phenomenon can also disturb the fluid-to-sodium balance.
So far it has been pretty clear to us, that hyponatremia is a common condition of old age. And even small shifts in serum sodium levels can be a cause of great worry. As you can see, it now becomes necessary to understand the various ways to prevent the condition. The following preventive strategies can keep the sodium levels in check:
- Get treated for underlying diseases
It is necessary that your elderly loved one receives treatment for conditions that give rise to hyponatremia. In many a cases, hyponatremia does not occur as a stand alone case, but as a result of underlying disease conditions. Therefore, it’s necessary that they are treated for those conditions to prevent serum sodium levels from dropping.
- Get sodium levels checked regularly
Your elderly loved one’s sodium levels need to be checked at regular intervals, so you can watch for shifts.
Treatment of hyponatremia
This will largely depend on the underlying disease conditions your elderly loved one is suffering from. One of the major points that needs mention, is that a rapid correction of serum sodium levels is not advised. Rapid correction can lead to diffuse cerebral demyelination. It is very important to note that the serum sodium is always raised at the rate of 0.6 to 2.0mEq/L in the first 24 hours. Certain medications can control the symptoms.
I agree too much salt is bad and not enough is not good either. We all have to use salt in moderation to keep our loved ones healthy and happy. But you also need to monitor your loved ones sodium levels. So use the tips and suggestions I’ve provided to keep your elderly loved one’s sodium level healthy.
Let me know in the comments if this article was helpful for you and if you have experienced this situation with your loved one?