Living with dialysis: Maintaining mental and physical wellness while undergoing dialysis

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By Mandar Gori

Dialysis saves lives, but there is no denying the fact that it also changes a patient’s life forever. It becomes an important part of their daily routine and takes a significant toll on mental and physical health – especially when they are adjusting to the initial stages of receiving dialysis treatment.

While living with dialysis is not easy, being able to acknowledge the challenges and taking a proactive, holistic approach to managing their personal wellbeing can help dialysis patients regain a sense of agency. This goes a long way towards restoring their confidence and enthusiasm for life.

Overcoming the mental impact of dialysis

Dialysis can be traumatizing to even the most well-prepared patients. Having to plan their lives around dialysis is a big change and it takes time to accept and adapt to it. It is absolutely normal for them to have negative emotions; dialysis patients most commonly report experiencing anxiety, depression and frustration.

Many of these symptoms stem from a fear of the unknown and a sense of losing control over their lives. Acceptance is the first step to recovery and gathering knowledge is the logical next move. However, patients should ensure that their information comes from credible sources, such as accredited healthcare professionals.

Patients should not feel ashamed to seek help to understand dialysis. Doctors, nurses and other caregivers exist to help them manage the lifestyle changes that they need to make. Once they know what they need to do, the scales of control tip back towards balance as they can plan their next steps with more confidence.

Dialysis may be part of a patient’s life, but that does not mean it has to be their whole world.

People who try to maintain their regular routines as much as possible report experiencing more satisfaction and have fewer emotional issues.

There are multiple ways to preserve existing routines for working and socializing, even if they may need some adaptation to the new dialysis schedule and requirements. For instance, patients can take up new hobbies to replace any that are no longer feasible or meet their friends at new places closer to home.

Managing the effects of dialysis on the body

Maintaining good physical health is equally as important as maintaining a positive frame of mind to manage living with dialysis. Studies show that insomnia, fatigue and cramping are among the most common physical symptoms reported by dialysis patients. They also often report excessive interdialytic weight gain, which is caused by not properly following a suitable fluid intake regimen.

Patients cite fatigue, muscle weakness, nausea and the fear of getting hurt as main reasons for the lack of exercise. However, exercise – when coupled with a proper diet – has been shown to improve physical fitness, muscular strength and cardiovascular health along with mental wellbeing.

Exercise can be done during dialysis with intradialytic cycling and basic strength training with weights, but it is more important for patients to incorporate exercise more fully into their daily routine. This may include walking more and taking the stairs – anything that gets them moving more frequently.

Dialysis patients are usually advised to limit their fluid intake due to reduced kidney function. Recording their intake in a journal or carrying around a water bottle with a clearly marked storage capacity can be useful to keep track of their fluid consumption.

It is also very important for patients to limit sodium intake as salt makes you feel thirsty and your body retain water, which can lead to fluid overload. They may need to increase their intake of high-quality protein as some protein can be lost during the dialysis process. Reducing their consumption of phosphorus and potassium is also advisable as the kidneys are now less effective at filtering these.

Living with dialysis

Even with technological advancements patients must have access to adequate resources and support to properly manage dialysis on a daily basis. Social support along with medical care is an important aspect for most patients. Access to the right treatment and resources are crucial for their longevity, they can help extend the patients’ lifespan by up to 20-30 years.

By taking back control over the wellbeing of their mind, body and soul, dialysis patients can ultimately live a more rewarding life.


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