Supporting a loved one who is on dialysis

Finding out that a loved one needs dialysis is not easy. Their entire life suddenly changes as it revolves around their treatments. But as a friend or family member, you can play an important role in supporting a loved one going through dialysis.

What Is Dialysis?

Dialysis is a treatment for people with kidney failure. Kidney failure is the end stage of chronic kidney disease. It happens when your kidneys no longer function well enough to work on their own.

Dialysis does not cure kidney failure, but it makes it possible to survive for a number of years. With dialysis, a machine does the work of the kidneys.

In dialysis, a doctor will make an access port into your blood vessels in an arm or leg. Your blood goes into a tube and through a filter that removes waste, salt, and extra water. This process keeps a safe level of chemicals (potassium, sodium, and bicarbonate) in your blood.

Removing extra water from your body through dialysis also helps control your blood pressure. Extra fluid in your blood vessels can raise your blood pressure.

Some people are on dialysis until they can get a kidney transplant. Others are on dialysis for the remainder of their lives.

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Where Does Dialysis Take Place?

Dialysis can happen in a dialysis center or at home. Most people have dialysis in a center, but home dialysis is becoming more and more popular. Your doctor can help you decide which one best suits your needs.

In a center, most people receive treatment between three and five days a week, for several hours at a time. A nurse or technician performs any tasks needed during treatment. There is a pre-scheduled time for these treatments.

Home dialysis gives you more flexibility in scheduling treatments. You may even be able to do long, slow treatments overnight while you sleep. To qualify for home dialysis, you and a care partner will need extensive training to learn to operate the dialysis equipment.

What are the Side Effects of Dialysis?

People going through dialysis can have a range of issues, both physical and emotional. They often feel fatigued and may suffer from itchy skin, weight gain, and muscle cramps. They may feel overwhelmed, angry, or depressed.

How to Help a Loved One Going Through Dialysis

If a friend or family member is going through dialysis, you may feel frustrated and helpless, especially at first. It’s hard to know how to be helpful, especially if you haven’t been a caregiver before. Here are some steps you can take to help your loved one and yourself cope with dialysis.

Drive them to treatment

If your loved one is getting treatment at a dialysis center, you can help by driving them to the appointment. Especially at first, your loved one may feel weak and tired from the dialysis, and not up to driving. Also, staying with them during dialysis, if possible, can ease their anxiety.

Consider becoming a care partner for home dialysis

Home dialysis programs require a care partner for the person getting dialysis. The care partner can be a family member or friend. Some people prefer to hire a nurse or technician.

Know that being a care partner is a big commitment that requires training. You will need to learn how to operate the dialysis equipment and handle any problems that may arise. You also need to be available to help during each treatment.

Educate yourself about dialysis

Find out as much as you can about your loved one’s treatment. The staff at the dialysis unit can discuss side effects and how to ease your loved one’s discomfort. The National Kidney Foundation is also an excellent source of information about dialysis.

Check for kidney support groups in your area. Meeting others who are going through the same thing can provide encouragement and relief.

Take over some chores

When your loved one is on dialysis, they may not feel up to doing much housework. You can help by doing laundry, preparing healthy meals, and taking care of light housekeeping like running the sweeper or dusting.

If possible, split the work up among other friends or family members. That way no one will feel too burdened.

Consider becoming a living-kidney donor

Some people on dialysis are waiting for a kidney transplant. According to the National Kidney Foundation, about one-third of all kidney transplants in the U.S. are from living donors.

You may consider donating a kidney to your loved one to give them a second chance at life. Talk to your doctor about what is involved in becoming a living donor, and whether you’re a good candidate.

Take time for yourself

Having a loved one on dialysis can be physically and emotionally draining. Make sure you get exercise, eat healthy foods, and be sure to get the proper amount of sleep. Carve out time each day when you do something relaxing just for you — read a book, take a walk, or meditate alone.

Seek professional counseling

Asking for help is often better than toughing it out alone. Being a caregiver for someone on dialysis can be stressful and exhausting — especially if you have other work and family responsibilities.

Seek help if you or your loved one is showing signs of depression lasting more than two weeks. Signs of depression include lack of appetite, too much or too little sleep, and loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy. A doctor can refer you to a mental health professional.

National Kidney Foundation, Coping Effectively: A Guide for Patients and their Families, Link

National Kidney Foundation, Dialysis, Link

National Kidney Foundation, Organ Donation and Transplantation Statistics, Link

NHS, Dialysis, Link

American Kidney Fund, Mental health and kidney disease, Link

National Kidney Foundation, Home Hemodialysis, Link

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, High Blood Pressure and Kidney Disease, Link

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