How Can Assisted Living Support Seniors on Dialysis?
Author: Garrett Steele
Assisted Living and Dialysis
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a long-term disease marked by decreasing kidney function over time. This can be caused by many things, from diabetes to high blood pressure to injury of the kidney itself. When the kidneys’ function is diminished, the toxins, waste, and fluids that they’re supposed to remove build-up. Chronic kidney disease is hard to diagnose because symptoms don’t usually appear until it reaches its later stages.
The last stage of CKD is called end-stage renal disorder (ESRD). At this stage, the kidneys can no longer function on their own. There are two options for the treatment of ESRD. One is a kidney transplant. The other is dialysis. Dialysis is a treatment where a machine and a cleansing fluid perform the role of the kidney, removing toxins, waste, and excess fluid from the blood.
CKD affects roughly 15% of Americans. Of those, some 468,000 people in America are on dialysis, and that number is growing all the time. That growth is especially prominent among seniors, who already experience more affected by CKD than any other age group. CKD is present in 6.71% of people aged 40-59. By age 70, that number rises to 46.8%.
Dialysis Treatment Options
Once someone begins dialysis, it becomes a large part of their life. The good news is that you have choices for dialysis treatments. All of them involve using a machine and a cleaning solution to perform the kidney’s function, and all of them require surgery to implant an access site for the dialysis to take place.
If you opt for in-center hemodialysis, you’ll go to a dialysis treatment center 3-4 times a week. Technicians and nurses will guide you through the dialysis treatment. They’ll hook the dialysis machine up through surgically-made access in your arm. The dialysis treatment removes your blood and runs it through a filter where a cleaning solution removes toxins and excess fluids. This takes an average of 4 hours, and you can bring work, watch videos, or do whatever else you enjoy, as long as you can do it with a machine hooked up to your arm. Recovery time for hemodialysis can be lengthy – as much as 6-8 hours – as a result of only getting treatment every few days.
Home hemodialysis offers a wide range of benefits. You perform the same treatment, but you do it at home, after having the dialysis equipment installed where you live. Travel is less of an issue with home dialysis, and you can dialyze more often. Research indicates that more frequent dialysis leads to better heart health outcomes and lower recovery times. Depending on your insurance, it might also be more affordable. Insurance may even cover installing the equipment. The downside is that you’re responsible for performing your own treatment, which might be tricky for some without a care partner.
The final kind of treatment is peritoneal dialysis (PD). Instead of removing your blood and running it through a machine, PD treatments use the lining of your abdomen as a filter. A catheter in the abdomen provides access. You cycle the fluid in and out of your abdomen through the catheter, and it cleans the blood right there inside you. PD is gentler in many ways than in-center dialysis, but it’s also associated with some weight gain and cardiovascular side effects.
Seniors and the Challenges of Dialysis
Dialysis is an important, lifesaving treatment. But for many people, accessibility can be an issue. These problems are experienced by many people, not just seniors, but they can represent an extra hurdle for many seniors.
For people who do dialysis in clinics, mobility may be an issue. So can travel. Many seniors don’t drive, for reasons of safety, logistics, or convenience. But making other arrangements can be difficult. Friends or family may have to shuffle schedules around to help with transportation, and cabs and Lyfts can add up over time. Dialysis is usually a commitment of at least three days per week. That’s a lot of time traveling to and from a clinic.
Home dialysis can alleviate some of these issues, but it’s not perfect. Many people, especially seniors, may need assistance with the actual process of dialyzing. They also may need help staying on schedule and keeping up with medications. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Managing CKD means careful adjustment your body chemistry. You have to be mindful of keeping substances like calcium, phosphorus, and potassium within the correct ranges. That means keeping up with a lot of medications, which may come with unique schedules.
And of course, many people with CKD also have other chronic conditions. The most common causes of CKD are high blood pressure or diabetes. These conditions may demand extra attention or inhibit someone’s ability to take care of themselves. And, many side effects of dialysis (and of CKD) are more likely to occur for seniors than for younger people with CKD. That includes everything from exhaustion to heart complications. But you don’t have to manage those things by yourself.
Benefits of Assisted Living and Dialysis
One thing that can help manage dialysis is assisted living. Assisted living facilities provide care in a variety of areas but, managing chronic illnesses like CKD is an important part of the care they provide.
One of the crucial benefits of assisted living is the reassurance and support of having someone there for you, in all aspects of life with CKD. Dialysis care teams recommend that everyone – not just seniors – have a care partner. Assisted living gives you all the care partner support you could hope for, from nurses and aides who are trained to help. If you choose a home dialysis option, that means that someone is on hand to assist and monitor you. But that doesn’t mean you have to choose home dialysis. Many assisted living facilities partner with nearby dialysis centers, making appointments easier and even offering transportation.
But it’s not all about dialysis. Assisted living means that there are people around you to talk to, many of whom may be going through the same things you are. People often talk about feeling isolated and depressed as they go through CKD treatment. A lot of that comes from having to navigate daily life with people who don’t understand the challenges of chronic illness. In assisted living, you won’t just have nurses and aides on hand, you’ll have potential friends who are coming from the same place that you are.
Finally, assisted living provides support for the regular ins and outs of dealing with CKD. Dialysis is a big part of treatment, but above and beyond that is a host of other things. There are a lot of medications to keep track of, many of which are time-sensitive and require a strict schedule. Monitoring vital signs and communicating dialysis results to your care team is also important. Assisted living means 24/7 access to compassionate, trained professionals who can help you manage these and other aspects of your treatment, for CKD and more.
Choosing an option that works for you
Everyone’s journey with CKD is different, and everyone’s needs are unique. Whatever you decide is right for you, know that the benefits of assisted living are always available if you need them. From having people to talk to, to the logistics of the actual dialysis treatment, to knowing that trained professionals are there to help you manage every aspect of your care, assisted living has a lot to offer.