Dementia Linked to Kidney Failure

By: Sara Muharremi  |  May 26, 2021

By Sara Muharremi, Staff Writer 

According to the CDC, “Dementia is not a specific disease but is rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities.” The World Health Organization (WHO) further describes dementia as a “[…] syndrome, usually of a chronic or progessive nature […that] is not a normal part of aging […]” They estimate that there are close to 50 million people worldwide affected by dementia, with almost 10 million cases being added each year. One of the most common types of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Although there are no current cures for dementia, some treatments and medications can help protect the brain or manage symptoms, such as behavioral symptoms.

There are certain factors that can increase a person’s risk for dementia, and recognizing these risks is important in order to test for a diagnosis sooner rather than later. Age is the highest known risk factor, with most cases of dementia occuring in those 65 years or older. Family history is another large indicator; along with race and ethnicity, poor heart health, and traumatic brain injuries. Karolinska Institutet, one of the world’s most prominent medical universities and Sweden’s largest center for medical academic research, recently found that kidney disease can also be a high risk factor for dementia as well. 

Their research found that older people with kidney disease have a higher chance of being diagnosed with dementia, and that risk increases when kidney function declines. Chronic kidney disease is common amongst older adults, where the global prevalence can be as high as 25-40%. The study included “[…] more than 325,000 individuals 65 years of age or older, [and] the researchers found a clear link between poor kidney function and the probability of receiving a dementia diagnosis during the follow-up. Nearly 19,000 cases of dementia (5.8 percent) were detected over a median follow up of five years.” Their study was one of the largest studies done regarding kidney function and dementia, and the results showed a clear correlation between a decline in kidney function with a dementia diagnosis. Estimated glomerular filtration rates (eGFR) were also conducted in order to test kidney functions themselves. A normal baseline for an eGFR in healthy individuals is around 90 ml/min or higher. The institute found that those who had a filtration rate of 30-59 ml/min had a 71% increased risk of dementia, and those with an eGFR score less than 30ml/min had double the associated risk in comparison to those with a normal eGFR. 

Dementia doesn’t just affect the individuals themselves, but those around them as well. To not have a cure for dementia makes it even harder on families and those affected. To be aware of the risks, and to know if you or a loved one are in a higher risk category, can lead to an earlier detection which can then hopefully result in better treatment as well. One of the authors involved in the research even said that their “[…] analysis suggests that as many as 10 percent of dementia cases could potentially be attributed to chronic kidney disease.” With this connection, physicians can begin to establish better policies to keep an eye out for people with kidney disease and implement various screening strategies in order to decrease the risk of dementia for individuals as much as possible. 

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