Your kidneys are among the most important organs in your entire body. That’s why treating them well is so important — and why living with renal disease can be so challenging.
Sadly, not everyone has the ability to prevent renal disease, and for some, you may already be struggling to keep up with managing your condition. Luckily, there are plenty of lifestyle considerations that you can make to maximize your health as a senior living with kidney troubles.
Here’s what you need to know about renal disease as a senior:
What is Renal Disease?
Your kidneys are your body’s filter for impurities. Located towards your back about midway up, these fist-sized organs are what keep our blood clean and healthy. They also create our urine, which is the vehicle they use to dispose of these impurities.
Renal disease refers to illnesses and complications that have negative effects on your kidneys, impacting their ability to keep your blood clean. This can be a life-threatening condition, and disproportionately affects seniors.
Renal disease may only impact one of your kidneys, which has its own complications but is much less severe than when both are affected. Our bodies only need one kidney to remove impurities, which is why living kidney donors can lead normal lives (although having two healthy kidneys is obviously ideal).
At its worst, renal disease can lead to kidney failure, which is fatal if left untreated. While early on symptoms may be minor and hard to detect, as renal disease progresses you may feel extremely nauseous, fatigued, itchy, and experience swelling in your ankles, as well as chest, and changes in how you urinate.
Preventing Renal Disease
Like many other illnesses, renal disease is often the result of other health complications. Maintaining your overall health will greatly reduce your risk of kidney troubles now and in the future. Common precursors to renal disease include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or untreated urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Whether you have a history of diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure, managing these conditions includes adopting and maintaining a healthy diet. Consider how many calories you’re eating, and make sure you are carefully monitoring your sugar and salt intake if your healthcare team has advised that you do so. An excess of either can lead to heart and blood pressure problems, in addition to exacerbating diabetes. By staying on top of your existing conditions, you can prevent renal disease from ever becoming an issue.
Another factor to consider is hydration. Your kidneys require a lot of water to filter out impurities, so ensuring that you drink enough of it is essential for their (and your) health. Keeping hydrated is good for all aspects of your health, but especially for your kidneys. Simply keeping a water bottle handy so you can grab a sip every time you’re thirsty is a great first step, especially for seniors with mobility issues. Additionally, if your urine is consistently a pale yellow, that is a clue that you are well hydrated.
Getting ahead of kidney troubles also involves following the advice of medical professionals. Many health conditions can trigger renal disease, which means you have to be diligent about their treatment before your kidneys become an issue. As such, be sure you’re taking your prescribed medication, especially as it pertains to heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes and UTIs.
Living With Renal Disease
There are two main stages of renal disease. The first involves reduced kidney function, and the second is complete kidney failure. Each requires its own specific treatment and lifestyle changes to promote the best outcome for your health, comfort, and quality of life.
As renal disease progresses, however, more drastic measures have to be taken. As kidneys begin to fail, and their ability to filter your blood diminishes, all sorts of impurities in your blood will accumulate with a variety of negative health implications. When this happens, it’s time to prepare for dialysis.
Dialysis is required when your kidneys have lost about 85% of their ability to function. There are two different types of dialysis, but both do roughly the same thing — they act as an artificial kidney and clean your blood in ways that your kidneys cannot. Dialysis can be done at a hospital, clinic or even at home under certain conditions. As your renal disease advances, it’s important to talk to your doctor and have a plan established for your care.
Regular dialysis, in combination with medication and lifestyle improvements, can greatly improve your quality of life while living with renal disease. Catching the disease early and maximizing the health of your kidneys may mean dialysis is never required. Either way, it’s important to speak with a medical professional who can help build a plan that’s right for you.
If it does start, be sure to be mindful of the symptoms so that you can receive early treatment which can prevent the advance of it. In the event of complete kidney failure, speak to a doctor about the right care plan.
Always consider your kidneys — they’re working hard to keep your blood clean right now.