Kidney Problems

Basic Facts

Older adults normally have enough renal (relating to the kidney) capacity to meet their needs. However, when an older adult faces illness, their kidney capacity may not be enough.

Changes to Kidney Function

About one-third of older people maintain normal kidney function. Most others have a gradual decrease in function starting around age 35. Kidney function sometimes worsen quickly due to dehydration, adverse medication effects, or other reasons.

If this happens, serious problems can result such as:

  • Fluid and electrolyte imbalance: having too much or too little sodium, potassium, or water in the body
  • A build-up of waste products in the body: urea or acids
  • Loss of protein through kidneys
  • High blood pressure from too much fluid in the body
  • Anemia (low red blood cell counts)
  • Brittle bones leading to pathologic fractures

Healthcare professionals who specialize in kidney (renal) diseases are called nephrologists. The nephron is the basic filtering structure in the kidney. The function of the kidneys can become compromised over time due to chronic medical conditions such as long-standing uncontrolled hypertension or diabetes.


Chronic kidney disease increases the risk for other problems.  These include cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, heart failure, heart rhythm disturbances, and strokes. Controlling kidney disease will lower these risks. 

Malfunctioning kidneys also increases risk of:

  • Malnutrition
  • Osteoporosis
  • Anemia (not enough red blood cells)
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression (very low doses of short-acting antidepressants may be helpful)
  • Reduced ability to carry out daily functions
  • Numbness in feet and hands (neuropathy)
  • Lower general quality of life


Last Updated February 2023

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