Knowledge about Kidney Disease Helps Protect Older Adults

The National Kidney Disease Education Program can help you promote kidney health among your loved ones, patients, and community.

High blood pressure, obesity, diabetes—and being over age 60—are among the biggest risk factors for chronic kidney disease, a term that means gradual loss of kidney function. It's a health problem that affects one in seven American adults.

In the early stages, there are few signs or symptoms. Chronic kidney disease may not become apparent until your kidneys are seriously damaged.

Kidneys filter wastes and excess fluids from the blood, and they make urine. When chronic kidney disease reaches an advanced stage, dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes and waste build up in the body.

"People can have kidney problems at any age," said Joyce Jackson, president and chief executive officer of Northwest Kidney Centers in Seattle. "However, kidney problems are more common with increasing age."

In addition to the natural aging of the kidney itself, kidney disease can get worse because of other health conditions that are common in older adults, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, said Jackson. She said one in five individuals ages 65 to 75 has some kidney disease; for people over 75, it's about half.

March is National Kidney Health Month. It's a good time to consider getting tested for kidney disease. If you have it, you can slow it down and keep it from resulting in kidney failure. There are ways to prevent kidney disease as well. They include:

  1. Keep active and stay fit to manage weight and keep kidneys healthy.
  2. Reduce salt in the food you eat. Levels are often very high in restaurant food and processed food. Find great recipes at www.nwkidney.org.
  3. Monitor your blood pressure. If it's higher than 140/90, have a talk with your doctor about how to treat it.
  4. Watch your blood sugar. About half of diabetes patients end up with kidney disease.
  5. Be cautious with over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen. Large doses over a long time can damage the kidneys.
  6. It's a serious health challenge if kidney disease worsens to the point that the kidneys shut down completely. Then a person needs regular ongoing dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive. Even so, an active, full life is possible.

Molly Ramage, 61, lived just fine with a kidney transplant for 12 years. When the transplanted kidney stopped working two years ago, the Kirkland resident went on home dialysis with Northwest Kidney Centers' support. Now she gives herself dialysis treatments at home for about four hours at a time, five days a week—on her own schedule. "Past that, the rest of my life is completely free," said Ramage, who hit a milestone this Christmas when she traveled with her family to Portland.



Molly Ramage



 

"I had not been well enough since the transplant failed to travel to Portland. This year we were able to go down and spend a couple of days with the family, which was a gift," she said. "I just loved it. It was something I did not think would happen again."

Ramage said that she finds that she can also eat a more diverse diet while on home dialysis. "I'm doing it five days a week instead of three (the usual number at a dialysis clinic) so the toxins are moving out of my body faster, which is also why I'm feeling so well."

Even with kidney disease, life can continue to be fulfilling and good. For more information about kidney disease prevention and treatment, go to www.nwkidney.org.

Contributor Cynthia Flash, owner of Flash Media Services, has contributed multiple AgeWise King County articles about kidney health, healthy aging, and other issues over the years.

New online tools for people with chronic kidney disease

Northwest Kidney Centers' new website includes interactive tools and information to help people live long, full lives with kidney disease:

  • Basic information for people wondering how to handle a new diagnosis of chronic kidney disease.
  • A directory of area physicians who specialize in kidney treatment.
  • Tasty, healthy recipes, sortable by nutrient and ingredients.
  • A list of free classes with links to find the nearest time and place. A user can share the site's content with others via handy social media links. Learn more at www.nwkidney.org.