Caring for Seniors with Kidney Disease

Advice for families and caregivers

With kidney disease, the kidneys can no longer do their normal job of eliminating waste from the body. This problem can occur gradually, as the kidneys slowly lose function, or it can occur suddenly, as the result of an acute onset. Kidney disease affects about 39.4 percent of people over 60.

Q&A for Seniors and Kidney Disease
How can I help my parent cope with kidney disease?

Two important steps your parent can take are to watch his or her diet and to exercise, so reinforcing your parent's attempts to diet and exercise will be a big help.

  • When people have kidney disease, a major concern is to keep their blood pressure down. And a low-salt diet will help keep blood pressure down. You can search the internet for low-salt recipes, or buy a cookbook so your parent can vary his or her diet even within the low-salt limitations.
  • Try to support your parent by always eating low-salt foods when you are together. And you can suggest that your parent try using fresh spices on his or her food to add flavor, such as ginger, cilantro, rosemary, thyme and sage.
  • Keeping weight down helps control blood pressure and kidney disease, and exercising regularly helps control weight. So encourage your parent to exercise -- volunteer to accompany him or her, or suggest that your parent exercise with a friend or trainer, or join a gym. Another option is for your parent to do active things he or she enjoys, such as gardening, hiking, walking or golfing.
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I heard that lowering protein intake can help kidney function. Is this true?

Most people with liver and kidney disease need to limit their intake of protein, as well as salt, potassium (found in bananas, oranges, dried fruit, nuts, potatoes, dried beans and peas) and phosphorus (found in milk products, nuts, peanut butter, seeds, lentils, beans, organ meats, sardines, cured meats such as sausages, bologna, and hot dogs, colas and soft drinks with phosphate or phosphoric acid, and bran breads and bran cereals).

Talk with your parent's doctor to find out if food restrictions are recommended and if rice-based products would be helpful.

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How can my parent find others with kidney disease to talk with?

Support groups for patients with kidney disease might be very helpful for your parent. At least three different national organizations offer support groups, in addition to those that may be offered through your local hospital. Here are phone numbers for the three national organizations:

American Association of Kidney Patients
(813) 223-7099
(800) 749-2257

American Kidney Fund
(301) 881-3052
(800) 638-8299

National Kidney Foundation
(212) 889-2210
(800) 622-9010

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Would relaxation exercises help my parent cope with kidney disease?

Relaxation exercises could help your parent cope with both the pain and the anxiety that can accompany kidney disease. Many patients have found these exercises enormously helpful in reducing stress and gaining some sense of control over their bodies as they achieve a relaxation response. Also, reducing stress relaxes muscles, which can decrease pain.

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My parent with kidney disease was told to stop smoking. Why?

The two most common causes of kidney disease are high blood pressure and diabetes, and smoking contributes to both of them and greatly increases both the chance of getting kidney disease and then the death rate from strokes and heart attacks for those who already have it.

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Is it really important for kidney patients to stop drinking alcohol?
  • Drinking more than two glasses of alcohol a day can damage a person's kidneys, and drinking alcohol can hurt kidneys and lead to the need for dialysis.
  • It also can lead to high blood pressure, which in itself can cause kidney disease.
  • And it can impede the effectiveness of medication.
  • In addition, it can lead to increased urinary output and therefore dehydration, alter blood chemistry and make it more difficult for the body to protect the kidneys.
  • Finally, the increased calories can lead to weight gain, which is not good for the kidneys or the body. For all these reasons, it is important for your parent to limit alcohol intake.
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My parent who has kidney disease is depressed by all the changes he must make. How can I help?

Adjusting to these changes may take a while. Reassure your parent that you want him or her in your lives, and that taking care of him- or herself is the only way for that to happen.

If your parent is still depressed after a few weeks, you should talk to his or her doctor about it. Treating the depression may help the kidney disease, as well.

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How do I go about finding a caregiver for my parent who has kidney disease? is a website that lists people throughout the United States who provide care to seniors, includes photos and descriptions of their experience, and does free background checks for members. You can search by zip code. For specific listings, go to:

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