The Link Between Kidney Disease and Dementia

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The Link Between Kidney Disease and Dementia

Guest Contributor:
Susan Baker,

Evidence Suggests Connection

Science and health are difficult areas of study to understand. Physicians and scholars often spend their entire professional lives dedicated to a single field of study, and even they don’t have all the answers. But when it comes to understanding our own bodies, we have to consider all the impacts of our lifestyle choices and how they coalesce, especially the risk factors associated with chronic diseases. Cognitive diseases, heart diseases, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, the gamet runs wide, and can occasionally be traced along the same pathways.

March is National Kidney Month in the United States, so in this article we are going to discuss some of the correlated links between Chronic Kidney Disease and Cognitive Degenerative Diseases, such as causes, prevention, and awareness. In the US alone, nearly 750,000 patients per year are affected by kidney failure. Currently, eight percent of the population has at least stage one CKD, and nearly half a million patients are already on dialysis (indicating rapid advancement).

Additionally, cognitive degeneration is also becoming a more common diagnosis here at home. Nearly eight percent of all adults in the US aged 65-69 have one or more cognitive degenerative disease such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, that number jumps dramatically to 25 percent in adults aged 80-85. Scientists are starting to wonder, or even suggest that there could be a potential link between the two diagnoses.

Dialysis Helps But at Increased Risk?

While dialysis is a life-saving treatment for those in stage four or five of CKD, the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN) finds that the treatment for ESRD can also lead to an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Dr. Harold Zcerlip, division director of nephrology at Baylor University had this to say regarding the link:

“While the exact reasons are unclear, there is considerable evidence that cognitive decline, especially loss of executive function, begins at early stages of CKD and progresses more rapidly with the initiation of dialysis.”

In a different study conducted by researchers at Stanford, Dr Manjula Tamura also found an interesting link in decreasing kidney function in patients with hypertension corresponded with an increased dementia risk. Their study suggested that CKD and dementia were common co-diagnoses in patients (especially older ones), suggesting a potential link in their pathogenesis.

Their study tested nearly 9000 patients and found that those with a Glomerular Filtration Rate decline (eGFR), the unit of measurement to determine kidney function, of more than 30 percent were at a significantly higher risk of dementia.

Kidneys Can Cause Cognitive Challenges

However, cognitive impairment or decline in patients with diagnosed CKD is not limited to those in the end stage. In several cross-sectional studies conducted by the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found an inversely related link in GFR and global cognitive function, suggesting that the worse off our kidneys are performing, the more dramatic our cognitive decline becomes. Although these studies support the hypothesis listed above that those with a GFR less than 30 (Stage 4 or 5) saw a more rapid cognitive decline, the JASN study still found a link in those with less severe cases of CKD.

However, there is good news for those who have been diagnosed with moderate or even severe Chronic Kidney Disease. Apart from dialysis, patients can take active control of their lifestyle to help mitigate the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s. Diabetes is listed as the single biggest risk factor associated with Chronic Kidney Disease and its progression.

Yet Again, Exercise Can Help!

By treating Diabetes, and thus, the earliest stages of Chronic Kidney Disease, patients can decrease their risk of cognitive brain decline. Instead of putting patients on dialysis, many doctors are developing treatment plans with patients that emphasize diet restrictions, increased exercise (even if it’s just around the house), and proper medication.

All of these lifestyle changes also lend themselves to better cognitive brain function. If an elderly patient were to quit smoking, they could decrease their chance of dementia by anywhere between 30 and 50 percent alone.

Susan Baker

Susan Baker of on Memory Cafe Directory

Susan Baker

Susan Baker is from InsuranceFAQ. She has been covering healthcare in her writing for nearly 10 years.

When Susan’s not writing about health insurance or chronic disease, she’s exploring the Pacific Northwest.

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