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Pros and Cons of Dialysis in Elderly Adults

When adults experience kidney failure, they may have to undergo dialysis treatment. Dialysis, otherwise known as renal replacement therapy, is the removal of excess waste from the blood. A kidney failure prognosis without dialysis for the elderly is impossible to determine and depends on various factors, such as other underlying diseases. That is why it’s important to consult medical professionals and loved ones about whether to begin dialysis treatment or even when to potentially end it. In this post, we will go over the pros and cons of dialysis in the elderly.

Side Effects of Dialysis in the Elderly

There are quite a few risks of dialysis in elderly adults but luckily many of them can be maintained. Below are a few side effects of kidney dialysis in elderly patients.

  • Clotting issues

  • Dry or itchy skin

  • Hernias

  • Infection

  • Low blood pressure

  • Muscle cramps or Restless Leg Syndrome

  • Nausea

  • Nutritional deficiencies

Over-the-counter medications and ensuring proper hydration can combat side effects such as nausea and low blood pressure respectively. Seniors should also take regular walks or use a heating pad to care for the aches and pains associated with dialysis. Of course, you should always consult a doctor for prescription medications and further care. Life Expectancy of Elderly Adults on Dialysis

Kidney dialysis life expectancy in the elderly depends on other medical conditions and how well they follow their treatment plan. The average life expectancy is 5-10 years but many live on dialysis for 20 or 30 years.

Speak to your healthcare provider about how to stay healthy on dialysis.

However, the later a senior goes on dialysis, the more their risk of mortality increases. Below are some figures from the U.S. Renal Data System.

  • Seniors aged 70-74 live 3.6 years on average, compared to 12.2 years for their healthy peers

  • Seniors aged 75-79 live 3.1 years on average, compared to 9.2 years for their healthy peers

  • Seniors aged 80-85 live 2.5 years on average, compared to 6.7 years for their healthy peers

  • Seniors aged 85 and older live two years on average, compared to 3.5 years for their healthy peers

The above numbers may influence one’s decision to begin dialysis but there are also several factors that can cause one to end it entirely. In the next section, we will review when to stop dialysis in elderly patients.

Ending Dialysis in Elderly Patients

While dialysis can help sustain life, it also has limitations. Using dialysis to prolong life may actually prolong the dying process for some patients. If that is the case, the patient and/or the caregiver should make a decision about what is best. One may consider ending dialysis for the below reasons.

  • The patient has untreatable diseases, such as cancer or diabetes.

  • The patient has an illness that will cause a great deal of disability if they survive.

  • The patient has a neurological disorder, such as dementia.

Patients should not discontinue dialysis if they can live a long and fulfilling life but if they have other obstacles to prevent the latter, they may question whether it’s the right decision to continue treatment. For some patients, it may be preferable to die from kidney failure rather than wait for death from cancer, stroke, or another illness. Patients should consult doctors, nurses, and loved ones to help them make the right decision.

Source: Pros and Cons of Dialysis in Elderly Adults (

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