Kidney Disease and Seniors

By Dr. Josef Coresh and Dr. Beth Piraino

A new study was released last week that shows kidney disease is on the rise among seniors in the United States. Compounding the problem, older individuals with kidney disease are at increased risk of kidney failure and other complications such as heart disease. Continued rise in the prevalence of kidney disease suggests that we have a lot of work to do towards better prevention and treatment.

This study focuses on people over the age of 80 and shows that the prevalence in this group has continued to rise over the past 20 years.  The reasons are not fully understood, but with people living longer and improved survival rates for such conditions as heart disease, stroke and cancer, the burden of kidney disease at an older age is steadily rising.

This is important since recent data confirm that kidney disease has adverse consequences at all ages [Hallan et al. JAMA 2013].  The message to older adults is that it is worth getting checked to see if they have kidney disease.  With a lifetime risk of more than 59%, there is a good chance that older adults have the disease and might not be aware. Additionally, early diagnosis can prevent or slow the progression through a healthy lifestyle and management of high blood pressure and diabetes. Following a low sodium diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and avoiding certain medications that can cause kidney damage can go a long way towards protecting your kidney function. Screening for protein in the urine can help detect the early onset of kidney disease and suggest treatment with specific medications that slow the progression to later stages (ACEIs and ARBs). Testing kidney function and urine are both very simple tests done by primary care providers, pose no risk, and offer important health information.

Dr. Coresh is Professor of Epidemiology, Medicine and Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Beth Piraino is President of the National Kidney Foundation

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