Patients on Kidney Dialysis Have a Higher Risk of Dementia

There is no denying the importance of dialysis for patients living with potentially fatal kidney diseases. Being a life-saving treatment, this intervention allows patients to better manage their illnesses.

As stated by the National Kidney Foundation, nearly 500,000 Americans currently rely on this treatment to survive.  However, researchers are now concerned that this treatment may also increase the risk of dementia in older adults. This is particularly true for women and minorities.

What the Researchers Found

After studying more than 350,000 Medicare patients receiving dialysis, aged 66 and older, it was found that those receiving dialysis showcased a significantly higher risk of dementia.

Following these patients from 2001 to 2013, 47 percent were female and 20 percent were African American. After receiving dialysis for end-stage kidney disease, the lifetime risk was 19 percent for patients between the ages of 66 and 70 years old. The overall risk rose to 28 percent for those who were between the ages 76 and 80 years old.

At this point, there is not a clear explanation in terms of why this may occur. However, there is significant evidence that during the early stages of chronic kidney disease, cognitive decline follows. The rate of decline also appears to progress more rapidly once dialysis begins.

Women Face A More significant Risk than men

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We have discussed the relationship between sex and Alzheimer’s in the past. You can access this article here: Sex Differences Between Men and Women Are Believed to Impact Alzheimer’s Risk.

As stated in the article, of the approximately 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, two-thirds are women. There are many potential variables that may help explain this phenomenon, including hormonal and genetic factors.

While studying older adults receiving dialysis, it was found that once again, women are affected more significantly than men. Based on their findings, the 10-year risk of developing dementia following dialysis treatment was 21 percent in men and 25 percent in women. In comparison, end-stage kidney disease tends to be more common in men — although researchers are not sure why.

Once dialysis patients develop dementia, researchers found that the mortality rate doubles. In relation to this two-fold mortality risk, these effects were apparent regardless of sex, race, age, or the presence of other disease conditions.

It is important to note that these recent findings do not indicate that it is the dialysis treatment itself that is causing a higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Minorities also showcase a higher risk

While studying African American and Hispanic dialysis patients, they showcased a two-fold risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s in comparison to white patients.

According to previous research, both Hispanics and African Americans also display higher rates of chronic kidney disease. Higher rates of obesity, a higher incidence of diabetes, and lower accessibility to healthcare may help explain these findings. 

Low Blood Pressure May Provide Clues

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To better understand why kidney dialysis patients are at a greater risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s, the researchers speculate that low blood pressure may be to blame.

As stated in one 2016 study, published in PLOS Medicine, low blood pressure appears to increase your risk of vascular dementia. This form of dementia develops due to reduced blood flow to the brain. Since dialysis causes low blood pressure, this may help explain these recent findings.

How to Prevent Chronic Kidney Disease

There are steps that you can take today in order to reduce your risk of chronic kidney disease, as well as the complications that follow. If you currently have high blood pressure or diabetes, it is imperative that you manage these conditions the best you can. This means actively changing your lifestyle to improve your blood pressure and blood glucose levels.

  • Start by making healthy food choices. Reduce your intake of table salt, cooking with more spices and fresh herbs. Also, significantly reduce your intake of refined sugars. If you struggle with your diet, please speak with a nutritionist to better manage symptoms of diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Change your habits, making exercise a regular part of your routine. Aim for 30 minutes of activity daily, working towards a healthy weight. Stress-reducing activities, such as yoga or tai chi are particularly beneficial.
  • Limited your alcohol intake and quit smoking.

If you are concerned about your health or current level of cognition, it is recommended that you take proactive action. The BrainTest® app can help you detect early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive impairments. You can then discuss your results with your doctor. At this time with your doctor, also ask about other variables, such as your blood pressure.

The goal is to communicate with your doctor, taking steps to improve your health before any severe conditions develop. For more information on kidney failure and its effect on the brain, please refer to the following article:

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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