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What is Kidney Disease?

As we age, our bodies naturally become more susceptible to brittle bones, sore muscles and disease.  Medical advancements have done wonders to slow down the process of aging, but one possible downside of a longer lifespan is that the elderly become more susceptible to loss of organ function that occurs naturally over time. 

“With the progression of medical treatment and preventive health measures, Americans have developed longer life expectancies than ever before,” said Maurie Ferriter, Director of Programs for the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan. “Because people are staying alive so much longer, we are beginning to see more people developing the initial stages of chronic kidney disease as they age.”

Ferriter explained that around age 30 to 35, kidneys begin to lose .5 percent of their function per year.  Therefore, the longer people live the more likely they are to start seeing a decline in their kidney function.  So what does this mean for aging Americans concerned with keeping their health intact? 

“The most important thing elderly citizens can do is to see a doctor on a regular basis and understand the symptoms, risk factors and prevention methods for chronic kidney disease,” Ferriter said.

chronic kidney failure in detroit

What is Chronic Kidney Disease?

kidney translplant and dialysisChronic kidney disease is permanent kidney damage or decreased level of kidney function for three months or more.  If left untreated, chronic kidney disease can lead to total kidney failure, requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant for survival.  More than 900,000 Michigan adults have chronic kidney disease, which can strike anyone at any age.  Older adults are at an increased risk for developing the disease.


For most people with chronic kidney disease (CKD), early warning signs often go unnoticed until the disease has progressed to a more serious level.  However, if you have any of the following signs, the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan urges you to get your kidney function checked as soon as possible.

Since many of these symptoms are very subtle and don’t seem directly related to the kidneys, Ferriter recommends that older adults receive regular medical check ups.

“It’s important to routinely get your feet checked by a podiatrist, especially if you have diabetes.  Getting your eyes checked and seeing a dentist regularly can help detect some early warning signs that may have otherwise gone unnoticed,” Ferriter said.

Simple tests that can detect CKD included Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR); blood pressure, urine albumin, and serum creatinine.  The National Kidney Foundation of Michigan suggests asking your physician for your GFR at your next check up.

Risk Factors

causes of kidney failureThe two leading causes of kidney failure are diabetes and high blood pressure.  Older individuals are at an increased risk for developing these conditions and should take extra care to manage their conditions through exercise, nutrition and medication.  A recent study showed that more than 70 percent of kidney disease cases that caused diabetes or high blood pressure could have been prevented or delayed with proper medical intervention and lifestyle changes.

In addition to seniors, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans are all at an increased risk for developing chronic kidney disease.

Detroit’s prevalence of kidney disease is 2.4 times higher than Michigan’s average and 2.6 times higher than the national average.


Take your Meds

Kidney disease can often be prevented or slowed by controlling diabetes and high blood pressure—it’s two leading causes.  Sometimes medication may be necessary to keep blood pressure at healthy levels and many people with diabetes require insulin and other medications to manage blood glucose (sugar).  Speaking with your doctor about a proper treatment plan and consistently taking your medications as directed is an important step toward preventing kidney disease, especially if you have diabetes or high blood pressure.

Follow a Healthy Diet

Preventing kidney disease can also be accomplished by staying at a healthy weight and following a nutritious diet.

“In America, a lot of adults and children have diets that are high in sodium and sugar,” Ferriter said.  “Some artificial sweeteners have been correlated with loss in kidney function, so people should be careful about consuming large amounts of diet soda or sugary sweets.”

Ferriter suggested moderation as the key to maintaining a healthy diet.  Other suggestions include eating less fat, limiting salt and sugar, and eating smaller, healthier meals.  Some specific suggestions include:

Eat Less Fat and Salt:  Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, nuts, fat-free or low-fat milk, and milk products. Grill or bake foods instead of frying them.  Instead of salt, use herbs and seasonings to add flavor to low-fat dishes.Limit fats, oils and sweets

Increase whole grains: Eat three ounces of whole grain bread, cereal, rice, crackers, or pasta every day.

Increase vegetables: Try dark green veggies like broccoli or romaine lettuce as well as orange veggies like carrots.  Dry beans and peas also contain a lot of fiber and will help you to stay at a healthy weight. 

Don’t forget fruit: Apples, berries, cherries and melons are all healthy fruits that can help you keep your blood pressure down.

Get your Exercise

It is also important to maintain a normal weight by staying active on a regular basis.  Try getting 30 minutes of exercise, for five days a week.  Take simple steps like parking farther away from the grocery store so you can walk in the parking lot, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and doing exercises at home during commercial breaks of your favorite TV program.

“Sedentary lifestyles and obesity have caused diabetes and kidney disease to rise dramatically in the last 30 years,” said Ferriter.  “Now we have up to 7% of the population with diabetes and with increasing rates of obesity in children, we are seeing the first generation of kids who are developing type 2 diabetes.”

Finally, if you are a smoker, trying to quit can be critical to helping lower your risk for kidney disease and its leading causes.

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