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MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Signs of kidney disease in elderly people

As we get older, the risk of kidney disease increases. We look at some of the  symptoms to be aware of.

February 26, 2024

Doctor with a kidney model showing  kidney functionality

Due to ageing, our kidneys become more vulnerable to disease, making kidney health vital in the elderly. While normal ageing of the kidneys does not result in severe kidney failure, there is an increased risk of developing other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or stroke. Therefore, it is recommended that older adults have regular medical checkups to detect potential issues related to kidney health. 

The National Kidney Federation reports that in people over the age of 75, approximately 1-in-2 individuals have Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). However, it is important to note that many older adults with CKD may not have "diseased" kidneys, but they could be going through normal ageing of their kidneys.

Kidney disease can develop slowly with few symptoms, but awareness is the first step in preventing or slowing its progression. In this article, we look at what is kidney disease, the signs of kidney disease, and treatments. We also look at how lifestyle changes can minimise the risk of older adults getting the disease.  

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What is a kidney disease?

Our kidneys play an important role in keeping us healthy. They are responsible for removing natural waste from the body, balancing essential minerals, regulating blood pressure, producing red blood cells, and keeping our bones healthy. It is known as kidney disease when the kidneys cannot perform their functions effectively due to damage or other age-related concerns. Developing a kidney disease is a slow process, and it doesn't always come with warning signs, so the onset of the disease is divided into five stages to provide adequate treatments to the patients. 

 

Symptoms of kidney disease

Kidney disease is often referred to as a "silent disease" because there may be no warning signs that something is wrong. In some cases, people can lose up to 90 per cent of their kidney function before experiencing any symptoms. The initial signs of kidney disease may be general and can include:

  • High blood pressure that is difficult to control with medication 
  • Changes in the amount and number of times urine is passed (for example, at night)
  • Changes in the appearance of urine
  • Increased levels of protein in the urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Swelling in the legs and ankles
  • Pain in the kidney area
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Headaches

Why are older adults more vulnerable to kidney disease?

Older adults become vulnerable to kidney disease due to a combination of physiological changes and lifestyle related factors. 

  • Ageing makes our kidneys work less efficiently as they have fewer filtering units and less blood flow, which means they can't efficiently eliminate waste from our bodies.
  • Many older adults experience health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure, both of which can harm the kidneys over time.
  • Older people often take multiple medications for different health problems. Some of these medicines can harm the kidneys if used in the long run.
  • Poor lifestyle routines like not exercising enough or not eating healthy balanced foods can also put a strain on the kidneys.

 

How is kidney disease treated in the elderly?

Treating kidney disease in older adults requires a thorough approach that meets their specific requirements and health. This approach includes trying different medications, dietary modification, lifestyle changes, and dialysis. Supportive care is also important, as it can help older adults with kidney disease manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. 

Blood pressure and diabetes control

Your GP might prescribe medications to control high blood pressure and manage sugar levels. This is important to slow down the advancement of kidney disease. Drugs such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) are used to lower blood pressure and protect the kidneys. Insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents may be prescribed to control diabetes and prevent further kidney damage.

Treatment for anaemia

If your elderly loved one experiences lower red blood cell count due to kidney disease, you may be prescribed iron supplements to reduce fatigue and increase the number of red blood cells.
 

Phosphate binders

If you have been diagnosed with advanced kidney disease, phosphate binders may be prescribed to control increased phosphate levels in the blood due to impaired kidney function.


Dietary changes

Controlling and managing kidney disease includes controlling fluid retention and blood pressure. Salt and water can increase fluid retention, which can cause swollen feet and ankles. Your GP may advise you to limit the intake of sodium. In a few cases, doctors also advise limiting dietary protein intake to help reduce the workload on kidneys and slow the progression of the disease. It is also important to reduce the intake of phosphorous and potassium to prevent electrolyte imbalances and other complications, especially in the advanced stages of kidney disease.


Lifestyle changes for kidney disease

  • Exercise regularly - Practice gentle exercises at home regularly. Remember to start slow; if exercising everyday seems overwhelming, you can start with going for short walks. 
  • Quit smoking - Smoking is known to increase the progression of kidney disease. It also increases the chances of getting a kidney failure, so it's best to stop smoking.
  • Weight management - If you are overweight, follow a balanced diet and get involved in physical activities that can help in reducing strain on your kidneys and improving your overall health. 


Dialysis

Dialysis is a life-saving treatment required in end-stage kidney disease to remove waste products and excess fluids from the body. There are two different dialysis procedures; in hemodialysis, blood is filtered using an artificial kidney machine, while in peritoneal dialysis the lining of the abdomen is used as a filter. Both procedures require regular sessions depending on the patient's state. 


Regular checkups

It is important to go for regular follow-ups to assess the function of your kidneys or make any adjustments to your medications depending on your health status. 

 

Reassurance your loved ones are safe

If you have an elderly loved one who lives alone, it’s natural that you might worry about their health when you’re not there to keep an eye on them. You may be concerned they are at risk of injury from falling or other accident, or from health conditions such as kidney disease.

One thing that can help in providing you peace of mind and your elderly loved one with confidence is getting a monitored personal alarm. This kind of system involves the elderly person wearing an alarm device, usually as a pendant around their neck or on their wrist, like a personal alarm watch. If someone has an accident or fall, feel unwell or have another emergency, they can simply press the alarm button and be connected to a 24/7 Emergency Resolution Team. The team can speak to the alarm user, and can get in touch with the nominated contacts or arrange emergency assistance, if needed.

This can offer real peace of mind to the loved ones of an older adult who lives independently, as well as helping the wearer to be confident going about their normal activities doing the things they love and knowing that help is at hand if it’s needed.

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure

Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure


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