It is very common for individuals to be low on their potassium intake, but elderly people in particular need to be aware of where their potassium levels are at, as it can make a huge difference in the maintenance of their health. Since elderly people require fewer calories to survive, they often lack even more nutrients than younger individuals.
When it comes to potassium, there are several ways to tell when levels are low. The following are 12 symptoms of low potassium in elderly people:
Potassium helps the body to use nutrients more efficiently, so when potassium levels get low, so do energy levels. This is because the body is not only low in potassium, but also in other nutrients it needs to function properly. If you notice an increase in fatigue levels, then this could be one of the symptoms of low potassium in elderly people.
2. Physical Weakness
Due to the work that potassium does for our muscles, the first symptom of low potassium levels is a weakness of the muscles. Essentially, the muscles will not be contracting as strongly as usual. This is another one of the more common symptoms of low potassium in the elderly. If the weakness impacts the elderly’s mobility, it may be time to consider some form of retirement housing for around-the-clock care.
3. Muscle spasms and/or cramps
Elderly individuals who are experiencing muscle spasms or cramps may be low on potassium. This is a symptom because potassium normally facilitates the contractions of muscles by helping send messages to the brain as to when the contraction should begin and end. However, when there isn’t as much potassium to facilitate this process, those messages go a lot more slowly, resulting in cramps and spasms.
Dizziness as a result of low potassium can come on because of high blood pressure. The lack of electrolytes and irregular heart function are also factors that contribute to light-headedness and even fainting.
5. Difficulty breathing
Shortness or breath and difficulty breathing may be caused by low potassium levels because potassium is also responsible for lung function. Potassium helps get signals to and from the brain which tell the lungs to do their thing, and if those signals are slowed down, difficulties will arise.
In addition, low potassium can cause an altered blood flow, which may not allow sufficient amounts of oxygen to be delivered to the body. Finally, in very extreme cases, low potassium levels can actually result in the complete shut down of the lungs. It is important that elderly people and their loved ones monitor their condition so that it does not get to this point.
6. Frequent and significant urination
Urinating frequently can be caused by low potassium, but it can also cause the furthering of the condition. Urine contains a lot of unwanted waste from the body, but it also contains potassium, so if too much urination is occurring, the person’s body is likely not absorbing enough potassium.
7. Extreme thirst
In cases where excessive urination is occurring, it is likely that the individual would also be feeling extremely thirsty. Even when drinking a lot of water, the person would still feel thirsty. This is because the kidneys are not able to concentrate the urine, thus resulting in significant fluid loss. Without absorbing the benefits of the water they are drinking, the individual would continue to experience intense feelings of thirst.
Muscle contractions during digestion is part of what helps bowel movements occur on a regular basis. Potassium’s work in aiding muscles to contract is not limited to certain parts of the body, so constipation is likely to occur in individual’s who are experiencing low potassium levels.
Bloating can occur as a result of constipation, but can also be a result of other parts of the digestive system not doing their part as well. Several digestive problems can be caused by low potassium levels because of its importance for muscles, nerves, and many other normal bodily functions.
Feeling irregular heart palpitations is a sign of severe potassium deficiency. This is another symptom that it is important to try to avoid altogether, but if it gets to this point it is crucial to see a doctor immediately. Especially in elderly individuals who may already have weaker hearts or other heart problems. Low potassium can add to these problems and can be fatal if not treated.
11. Blood Pressure
Another one of potassium’s important jobs is to counteract the effects of sodium in the body. By doing this, it helps to keep blood pressure low. If there isn’t enough potassium to do this job, then the blood pressure may rise.
Oddly enough, low blood pressure can also be a symptom of low potassium. This is in extreme cases where the potassium is so low that it is affecting blood flow to the heart – this would probably be seen in cases where irregular palpitations are occurring.
12. Strange psychological behaviour
Although more evidence is still required to prove this point, certain psychological behaviour including hallucinations, depression, and mental fatigue can all be caused by a lack of potassium. The reasoning behind it is that the lack of potassium blocks signals the brain needs to function normally.