Caring for Someone on Dialysis: FAQ’s

Dialysis sounds like a scary subject. One reason dialysis might sound intimidating is that you may not know anything about it, or have preconceived ideas about it being uncomfortable or difficult. But knowledge is power, and learning more about dialysis can help make the topic less scary, whether you are the person in need of this treatment or you are a caregiver for someone who needs dialysis.

What is Dialysis and How Does It Work?Image of Dialysis text on blackboard.

Dialysis is the treatment necessary for someone suffering from kidney failure. The treatment takes the place of some of the functions of healthy kidneys. The National Kidney Foundation provides a succinct description of how dialysis helps the body:

When your kidneys fail, dialysis keeps your body in balance by:

  • removing waste, salt, and extra water to prevent them from building up in the body
  • keeping a safe level of certain chemicals in your blood, such as potassium, sodium, and bicarbonate
  • helping to control blood pressure

What Are the Side Effects of Dialysis?

Is dialysis painful? No. An access point is surgically implanted in the body, under anesthesia of course. Some patients feel slight discomfort when the needles used to filter the blood are placed into the access point. Otherwise, the dialysis process is painless. Occasionally the process may result in a drop in blood pressure, which could cause nausea or headaches, but after a few treatments, these side effects typically go away.

 

How Long Can You Live on Dialysis?

Generally, patients live for five to ten years once they begin dialysis. Other medical conditions and other parts of the treatment plan can impact this as well. It is possible to live up to twenty years, and some patients have even survived as long as thirty years on dialysis. Unfortunately, kidney failure is rarely curable. The only solution to actually solve the problem is a kidney transplant. Otherwise, a patient will remain on dialysis for the rest of their life.

How to Care for a Dialysis Patient

Caring for someone on dialysis can be overwhelming at first. The most challenging part of dialysis is adjusting to a new routine. Dialysis treatments can be lengthy, lasting three to four hours, so time needs to be blocked out during the day for the treatments. Additionally, even though the patient spends the dialysis treatment sitting down, they may feel worn out afterward and not want to do anything else that day.

It is not all bad news though! Dialysis patients can still travel. Dialysis is standard, and treatment centers can be found all over the United States and the world. Often your current treatment center can help you schedule appointments at other locations. And while a dialysis patient may not be able to play contact sports or do any heavy lifting, they can still lead an active lifestyle. Studies have shown that dialysis patients do better when they maintain an active lifestyle and stay engaged in work and hobbies.

Can You Do Dialysis at Home?

The short answer is yes. Dialysis patient care at home can be done, though it takes a bit of training for both the patient and the caregiver. Some dialysis can also be done overnight while the patient is sleeping. Whether or not this will work for you is a decision that needs to be made with the patient, the patient’s doctor, and the caregiver.

While needing dialysis does cause a major life change, it does not mean your life ends. You can still be active, travel, and live a relatively normal life. As a caregiver, you will need to be aware of new routines, treatment appointments, and doctor-prescribed changes in diet. And as always, don’t forget to check in with your own physical and mental health.