Aging and Environmental Impacts

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

I’m lucky to have elderly parents in relatively good health. Recently, I took them for their routine medical tests and they passed them with flying colors. But, in my mother’s case there was one test result that was somewhat surprising. After the good news regarding her cholesterol and sugar levels, he said “…everything is fine, but you’re slightly dehydrated…” But, why? My mother confessed, “I’m simply not thirsty. I have to force myself to drink water.”

In fact, not too long ago I had translated a fact sheet for EPA’s Aging Initiative which dealt with the issue of water and other environmental impacts on adults in their golden years. The fact is that the elderly may be at a greater risk of dehydration because as they age they actually lose the thirst sensation. They do not feel the same urge to drink as often as when they were younger. Furthermore, some of the medications they are taking for other health conditions may increase the risk of dehydration. So, I had to actually explain to her that her lack of thirst was actually part of the process of aging and required special attention.

On the other hand, long term exposure to environmental contaminants in drinking water and recreational activities may further compromise the health of an adult of advanced years. For example, long-term exposure to lead may contribute to high blood pressure as well as memory and concentration problems, among other ailments. Air pollutants may aggravate lung diseases in the elderly, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.

So, while we encourage the adults of advanced years to engage in outdoor activities as much as possible, it is wise to consult the Air Quality Index before going out and follow public notices on drinking water to take precautions as necessary.

You may find additional EPA resources which have been translated into 15 languages to help us protect this important segment of the population.