You probably never think about your kidneys, but they work hard for you every day. Your kidneys help to remove waste from your body and balance fluids, and your body really can’t function without them. World Kidney Day falls on March 10, serving as a reminder to us all that maintaining healthy kidneys is just as essential to senior health as maintaining heart health, bone health, or mental health.
Kidney problems in older adults are quite common. It’s helpful to know the signs and symptoms of kidney dysfunction or failure, and how you can maintain healthy kidneys -- not just on World Kidney Day, but year-round.
Common Kidney Problems in Older Adults
While it’s commonly known that the kidneys are responsible for removing waste products from the body, that is certainly not their only function. According to the National Kidney Foundation, this organ completes a variety of tasks, including regulating the body’s salt, acid and potassium levels and producing hormones that affect the function of other organs.
Keeping your kidneys healthy as you age is essential, especially since these various kidney problems in older adults threaten your overall health and wellbeing:
- Electrolyte Imbalances. When the kidneys lose the ability to regulate the body’s salt, acid and potassium content, it increases the risk that these levels will become too high or too low. In fact, one-quarter of older adults sent to the emergency room have sodium concentrations that are either too high or too low. Should you experience weakness, confusion, numbness or seizures, see your doctor right away as you may be suffering from electrolyte imbalances.
- Nephrotic Syndrome. As we age, it’s not uncommon for the kidneys to lose their filtering ability, resulting in nephrotic syndrome. This disease can be seen in several different forms, including membranous nephropathy, amyloidosis and glomerulonephritis. More than half of seniors with kidney disease suffer from membranous nephropathy, making it one of the most common kidney problems in older adults. Symptoms of nephtrotic syndrome include swelling in the feet and ankles or around the eyes, foamy urine and weight gain.
- Renovascular Disease. Common in older adults with heart and circulatory diseases and in smokers, renovascular disease causes the blood vessels that take blood to and from the kidneys to narrow or become blocked. If both of your kidneys are affected by renovascular disease, you may experience back or side pain, fever, nausea and blood in your urine.
- Acute Kidney Failure. This occurs when the kidneys cannot filter waste from the blood. Acute kidney failure typically happens very suddenly and develops over a few hours or days. To complicate things even further, this disease can have no symptoms, but some do experience shortness of breath, swelling or insufficient urine production. As many as 200,000 cases of acute kidney failure are recorded annually.
- Chronic Kidney Disease. This is the gradual loss of kidney function over time. More than 25 million adults have this condition, and millions more are at risk, making it a huge threat to senior health. Similar to acute kidney failure, no symptoms may appear, but possible symptoms include severe weight loss, swelling, fatigue and a loss of appetite. The good news, however, is that slowing the progression of this disease is possible with the right actions.
5 Tips for Maintaining Healthy Kidneys
While these kidney problems in older adults seem inevitable, there are actually preventative measures you can take to ensure that you, maintain healthy kidneys as you age. All it takes is incorporating some simple, yet effective, healthy habits into your daily lifestyle, including:
Not only does water help the kidneys remove waste in the form of urine, but it also helps keep your blood vessels open so blood can easily travel to and from the kidneys. Dehydration, however, makes it more difficult for the kidneys to perform these essential functions. To determine if you are dehydrated, check that your urine is light yellow or colorless. If it is dark yellow, this is a warning signs that you are dehydrated and it’s time to drink more water.
Eat a healthy diet.
Eating a balanced diet is an essential component of healthy aging because it ensures that your body, especially the kidneys, is getting the proper vitamins and minerals it needs to continue functioning properly. When creating a balanced diet, be sure to choose foods that are beneficial for your heart, like fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods. You should also cut back on the amount of salt in your diet. A diet high in sodium can cause swelling, or edema when your hands, feet or legs start to swell, or high blood pressure. Experts suggest eating less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day.
Monitor your blood pressure.
Not only does high blood pressure damage your kidneys, but it also damages your heart. Simply ask your doctor to perform a blood pressure test, or invest in a home blood pressure monitor to keep an even closer eye on your levels. And, as mentioned above, reduce the amount of sodium in your diet.
Many kidney problems in older adults are much more common in smokers than non-smokers. If you currently smoke, take the necessary steps to quit, especially since cigarette smoke raises your blood pressure and damages your kidneys, lungs and overall health.
Limit alcohol consumption.
Similar to smoking, excessive alcohol consumption raises your blood pressure and damages your overall health. Limit yourself to two small drinks a day for men and one small drink a day for women. If you are worried that you or a loved one may be suffering from elderly alcohol abuse, know the warning signs and how you can handle this senior health threat.
Healthy Body, Healthy Aging
Even after taking the necessary steps to care for your kidneys as you age, it is still possible to experience a medical emergency. Whether you have sudden pain from kidney stones or are experiencing symptoms that you may think are related to kidney dysfunction, with Medical Guardian’s medical alert devices help is always just the push of a button away.