Kidneys Are Essential to Life – Are Your Senior Loved Ones Protecting Theirs?

Health consciousness grows in importance as we age so that we can enjoy the activities in our life to the fullest.

Family caregivers are realizing that keeping our seniors healthy will enable them to age in place more safely and with less assistance than if they are medically compromised.

We have begun to be more physically active, we are working on eating better, and we are staying emotionally engaged through socialization activities. One key area of increased engagement for aging seniors is technology, learning something new as a mean to connect with others and access important resources such as medical information.

Besides keeping our minds sharp and bodies active, our seniors have another essential area to consider — their kidneys.

Recently the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) teamed up to remind us that our kidneys need protection as we age. March 13 was designated World Kidney Day with an aim of raising awareness.

Kidney Function & Its Significance

Did you know that our two kidneys are the clearing house of the body’s waste? They take water and waste from our blood and filter out harmful compounds. They also help control our blood pressure, as well as making hormones our bodies need. Our kidneys filter out excess medicines in our blood, too.

Unfortunately, as our bodies age our kidney function naturally declines, making them work harder to achieve their mission. The condition of this decreased kidney function is called Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Has your senior loved one received this diagnosis? The kidneys may show this damage with more protein in their urine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 20 million people in the US are suffering with Chronic Kidney Disease, about 10% of the adult population. Those who have diabetes and high blood pressure are at even greater risk of having kidney damage.

Any reduced blood flow to our kidneys can further impede their function and is affected not only by age but also smoking. Family history can also play a role in kidney disease. Obesity, that is having a BMI (body mass index) over 30, was shown to double your risk for kidney disease.

Because many seniors take multiple medications that require clearing through the kidneys, they are at even greater risk for problems developing with their kidneys as they age.

Importance of Knowing Kidney Function

Being aware of how well your seniors’ kidneys are functioning or if there is kidney damage occurring will help you and them take action to prevent or delay further decline.

We have a good reserve in our kidney function so a small age-related impairment will not result in symptoms. Your senior will likely feel fine even if they have Chronic Kidney Disease. However, if the decline is accelerating more rapidly than expected it needs to be addressed.

There are many reasons why kidney damage could be occurring more quickly and the cause can be corrected to maintain the kidneys’ function. Our goal is preserve as much kidney function as possible.

Kidney Protection and Prevention

There are some things that we can do as caregivers to help protect the health of our senior’s kidneys. Here are some suggestions for you:

  • Discuss with your senior’s doctors how well your senior’s kidneys are functioning. Be sure to have them tested and know the results so you can track any changes. Blood tests can help determine if there is any current impairment and if so, what the level of function is. Urine tests can also help determine how well your senior’s kidneys are working or if there could be a problem.
  • Review with your senior’s doctor or pharmacist the medications that your senior is taking to determine whether they may be impairing kidney function. There are numerous medications that can become elevated in the blood and contribute to kidney damage. Perhaps a newer medication or a change in dosage can be sought to protect the kidneys. Your senior’s kidneys may also be more sensitive to certain medications and these should be adjusted.
  • Inform your senior’s doctors of all over-the-counter (OTC) medications they take, especially any for arthritis, as these may be damaging to the kidneys.
  • Be aware of your family history and let the doctor know if renal disease should be a concern based on that history.
  • Encourage your seniors to manage their blood pressure and take all medication as prescribed.
  • Help your seniors reduce their intake of salt (sodium) to no more than 2300 mg per day. If they have high blood pressure, it is recommended to further reduce intake to no more than 1500 mg of sodium a day. They can do this by eliminating the salt shaker and reading labels to select foods with the lowest sodium content available.
  • Quitting smoking is an important act for kidney health, help your senior with tobacco cessation if they smoke.
  • Get your senior’s blood sugar checked. Do they have diabetes or pre-diabetes? If so, help them manage blood sugar to prevent kidney damage.
  • Take steps to help them reduce their weight and achieve a healthy BMI. You can do this by helping them limit sugar sweetened drinks, limit portion sizes, eat a plate with half vegetables and get – and stay – physically active.

Naturally we want to prevent Chronic Kidney Disease if possible. We can take steps toward adopting a healthier lifestyle to stay healthy. Our goal will be to preserve the greatest amount of kidney function as possible as we all age.

However, since so many adults already have CKD, we need to recognize it and find ways to improve our senior’s kidney function so that they can be as healthy as possible and keep more life in their years!