Kidney Health for Seniors

Written by Rebecca Rabb for Aging I.Q. News

As we age, so do our organs. An estimated 37 million Americans have kidney disease or are at risk of developing it, but many do not even know. Kidney disease can develop at any time, but people over the age of 60 are at an increased risk. Over time, our kidney function starts to decline, and while this is part of the natural aging process, factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney stones, family history, or use of over-the-counter pain medications can add to this decline in function.  
 

Facts About Kidney Disease: 

  • Kidney disease kills more people each year than breast or prostate cancer. 
  • Annual kidney disease screening is recommended for anyone over the age of 60. 
  • Risk factors for kidney disease include high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney stones, a family history of kidney failure, prolonged use of over-the-counter pain medications, and being over the age of 60. 
  • More than 37 Million Americans have chronic kidney disease. 
  • Of the over 120,000 Americans on the national organ transplant waitlist, more than 98,000 are waiting for a life-saving kidney. 

(The National Kidney Foundation

The Role of Your Kidneys 

The kidneys are a vital organ responsible for controlling many important daily functions, acting as a natural filter for your blood. Located on the left and right side of your abdomen below the ribcage, these bean-shaped organs are responsible for filtering out waste and excess water from your body. In addition to filtering waste, they also control blood pressure, produce essential hormones, and balance pH levels. 

Kidney Disease 

When our kidneys stop performing their vital functions, our bodies have no way of eliminating excess water and waste from our system. When this happens, there can be a range of symptoms from mild to severe depending on the extent of the disease. These symptoms can include: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Increased Thirst 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Increased need to urinate 
  • Skin rashes 
  • Difficulty managing diabetes or high blood pressure 

Even when symptoms are present, they can often go unnoticed if they are mild. When this happens, waste and fluid begin to collect in the body which can lead to kidney failure. Failure occurs when the organ function declines to 15% or less.  

Kidney Protection and Disease Prevention 

You may think to yourself, if decline in kidney function is a natural part of aging, what can be done to prevent kidney disease? The truth is, there is a lot that can be done! From making healthy lifestyle choices to changing your diet, it is never too late to start caring for these vital organs, and for individuals who are already living with kidney disease, these methods are a reliable way to aid in protecting against organ failure. 

Diet 

Special diets, or renal diets, are tailored to reduce stress on the kidneys and are ideal for patients going through dialysis treatment. They focus on limiting foods and vitamins known to cause stress on the kidneys, such as sodium, phosphorus and proteins, and for certain patients even calcium or potassium. By changing to a kidney-friendly diet, you can essentially give your organs a break, allowing for better performance and slowing any disease progression. 

Remember these items when considering your diet: 

  • Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses, or 2 liters, of water per day. 
  • Consume foods low in salt, sugar, and fat. 
  • Look for labels that contain the words “whole grains”. 
  • Purchase fresh fruits and vegetables instead of their canned or processed counterparts. Canned foods often contain unwanted additives to keep them shelf stable. 
  • Discuss kidney-friendly diets with a physician or dietician. 

Exercise  

  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes each day. Incorporating moderate activity into your daily routine aids in your overall health and will help you maintain a healthy weight. Contact your primary care physician before starting a new workout routine. 
  • If you are overweight, focus on reaching a healthy BMI (body mass index). 

Health monitoring  

  • If you are diabetic, monitor your blood sugar very closely. To help maintain stable blood sugar levels, combine monitoring with diet, exercise, and any medications prescribed by your doctor. 
  • If you have high blood pressure, monitor your blood pressure regularly. If you are having trouble maintaining an appropriate blood pressure, consult your doctor. 
  • Get screened annually, especially if you have symptoms of kidney disease, have a family history, or are considered high risk. 

Lifestyle Changes 

  • Limit alcohol consumption. The kidneys filter your blood. By consuming large amount of alcohol, you can put unneeded stress on your organs. 
  • Quit Smoking. Smoking has been shown to contribute to kidney disease by slowing blood flow to these organs. For assistance in quitting, visit www.smokefree.gov for resources or speak with your healthcare professional. 
     

Conclusion 

Kidney disease it preventable, and with the right measures, it can be avoided. Individuals who have a family history of kidney disease or are considered at risk should contact a health care professional and undergo the appropriate annual screenings. You are never too old to change your health for the better. With the right lifestyle, diet and exercise changes, you can protect your vital organs. 

Resources: 

1) https://www.comfortkeepers.ca/canadas-seniors-kidney-health/ 

2) https://www.kidney.org/news/monthly/wkd_aging 

3) https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/smoking 

4) https://www.kidneynews.org/kidney-news/special-sections/geriatric-nephrology/caring-for-elderly-patients-with-kidney-disease-the-geriatrician%E2%80%93nephrologist-collaboration 

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