Dehydration a danger, especially to seniors |

Dehydration a danger, especially to seniors

Two Nevada women found dead in September died of dehydration, a preventable but common affliction that is not easily diagnosed.

Dehydration is considered a natural cause of death but is not on a list of things to look for when officials conduct autopsies, said Douglas County sheriff’s Lt. Mike Biaggini.

The results of the toxicology report for Carol Macken, a 65-year-old Round Hill retiree found dead in her apartment Sept. 28, concluded the cause was dehydration, the same determination for Debbie Bariames, who was discovered Sept. 21.

Darcy Wallace, director for the skilled nursing facility at Barton Memorial Hospital, said the elderly are most susceptible to dehydration because as age increases, there is a tendency for kidney failure and a loss of the swallowing reflex.

Elderly people on prescription drugs can suffer from side effects including impaired cognition.

“It knocks out their ability to be hungry or thirsty, or to ask for things,” Wallace said. “We watch those things like a hawk.”

Wallace was surprised at Bariames, a 35-year-old woman found dead next to her malnourished infant son, who was also suffering from dehydration. The toxicology report stated Bariames had prescription drugs in her system but determined it did not contribute to her death.

“I have a big question in my mind on how they came up with that,” Wallace said, adding, “I think maybe she was malnourished or something else was going on.”

Wallace was also surprised that Macken would die of dehydration because 65 years of age isn’t considered elderly. No prescription drugs were found in her system, Biaggini said.

Dehydration causes a shift in electrolytes such as potassium and sodium. Kidney and heart problems can arise and if the problem is not fixed, it can lead to death.

Wallace said dry skin and headaches can be a sign of dehydration even when a person doesn’t feel thirsty. She added many people believe their fluid intake is adequate by drinking coffee and soda, but — like beer — those liquids can suck fluids out of the body. The recommendation is to drink eight-10, 8-ounce cups of water per day.

Wallace recommends that athletes, another group that suffers from dehydration, drink Gatorade diluted with water.

But for such an easy imbalance to correct, many people don’t drink enough water.

“It’s like doing 100 push-ups a day and getting iron biceps,” Wallace said, “but why don’t I do it?”

— Contact William Ferchland at

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