When a loved one is sick, it’s tough to know when and how to help. Chronic kidney disease, which impacts more than one in seven adults, can be particularly challenging. Many people don’t realize they have chronic kidney disease until the condition causes other health problems, such as loss of appetite, depression, anemia and infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As chronic kidney disease advances, it can demand some significant style changes, involving intensive treatment plans (which could entail dialysis or even a kidney transplant), along with possible fatigue, dietary changes and more.

If you have a friend or family member who has been diagnosed with kidney disease, read on for some ideas about how you can support them.

  1. Educate yourself on kidneys and kidney disease. Your loved one may or may not want to talk about their condition. And that’s ok. For your own benefit, it might be helpful to read up on what kidney disease is to get a basic understanding of what they might be going through (the National Kidney Foundation is a great place to start). After you’ve done some reading, however, continue to respect their wishes if they don’t want to talk about their condition, or what lies ahead.
  2. Ask what you can do, specifically, to help. It can be hard to ask for assistance. If you know someone who has been diagnosed with kidney disease and is going through treatment, share some specific ideas of how you could pitch in. Some possibilities could include offering a ride to a doctor’s appointment or dialysis, helping them out with housework or yard work, running errands, assisting with their children or pets or simply enjoying one another’s company.    
  3. Learn about any dietary constraints. People with kidney disease may need to make some important changes to their diet, or they could risk getting even more sick. Ask about any dietary constraints that you need to think about if you’re preparing or delivering food to the person. For example, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, phosphorus may build up in the blood of patients who have chronic kidney disease, which can then pull calcium from their bones and weaken them. Foods higher in phosphorous can include meat, poultry and fish; bran cereals and oatmeal; dairy products; beans, lentils and legumes; and some dark-colored sodas and beverages. Foods high in potassium can also cause problems for people with chronic kidney disease, according to NIKKD, and some higher-potassium foods include oranges, bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, brown and wild rice, whole wheat bread and pasta, beans and nuts. Again, talk to the patient and/or their doctor about any and all dietary concerns so you can help them make healthy choices.
  4. Laugh with them. Being sick stinks, and a chronic illness can really wear on a person’s spirit. Be their escape chute from reality when you can, whether that means taking them out to do something they enjoy, watching a comedy together or just reminiscing about good times.   
  5. Offer to be active with them. Physical activity can be helpful to people with chronic kidney disease. At any stage of the condition, moving more can result in an energy boost, improve sleep and may even help with depression, according to the CDC. You can be your pal’s accountability partner when you encourage them to get up and get active. See if they’d be interested in taking a walk or hike, or joining you on a bike ride. You might both feel better for it.  
  6. Help them find a donor. When a person’s kidneys stop working effectively, a kidney transplant can help improve their quality of life. When a person needs a kidney transplant, their name is placed on a national transplant list; on the list, the wait for an organ from a deceased person can be three to five years. However, something called a living donor can offer a speedier option. A living donor is a person who is willing to donate a kidney. This is something that can be done directly, or through something called a “paired exchange,” which involves two living donors and two recipients (or even more). If your loved one is in need of a kidney, talk to their doctor about their options. You could consider donating yourself. Or you can share their story with others, in hopes that someone might hear it, or see it on social media, and be willing to donate.   
  7. Tap into available resources. Whether you’re looking for resources and support groups for the patient or the caregiver, the options abound. For kidney patients, the American Association for Kidney Patients is a good place to start for education, nutrition information, peer support and the latest happenings in clinical trials. For caregivers, the National Kidney Foundation offers this guide to education and resources. In addition, the National Kidney Foundation Cares is an information hotline for patients, family members and care partners. A specialist can speak to any questions and concerns you might have. Call toll-free 855.NKF.CARES (855.653.2273). 

Of course, the most important thing you can do for anyone who has an illness, including kidney disease, is show up. Let them know that you’re there for them, in good times and bad. And if you notice concerning changes in their mental or physical behavior, urge them to talk to a doctor, or help them get to the nearest medical facility.