| Dialysis | Kidney disease | Transplant

5 Ways to Help Your Friend or Family Member with Kidney Failure

August 18, 2022, 9:01am EDT

Persona sonriente recostada en una cama con bata de hospital.

Seeing someone you love go through kidney failure can be incredibly scary and frustrating. You may feel lost and unsure of how to help. Just as you’ll be there for your loved ones in their time of need, we’re here for you. Here are five ways you can support a loved one with kidney failure.

1. Understand their treatment plan

Healthy kidneys remove wastes and extra fluid from your blood, but when kidneys fail, toxins can build up in the blood and make people feel sick. Dialysis works for the kidneys, helping clear out toxins and fluid to help people feel better and live longer with end-stage kidney disease. Learning what type of dialysis your loved one is they are on can help you better understand what they are going through and support them accordingly. 

Hemodialysis: During hemodialysis, blood is cleaned by a dialysis machine. Blood goes through an artificial kidney, also known as a dialyzer, which filters and returns the cleaned blood to your body. Hemodialysis can be done at home, in a center, or at hospitals that offer it. 

Peritoneal dialysis: During peritoneal dialysis, a soft tube is inserted into the stomach lining to act as a natural filter. Special cleaning fluid enters the tube and clears the wastes and extra liquid as the machine cycles.

In addition to dialysis treatments, people with kidney failure may need to limit salt, phosphorus, potassium, and fluid intake. They may also need to eat more high-protein foods as protein can be removed during the dialysis process. 

Learn more about diet and hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis.

2. Share resources

Unless you've gone through kidney failure, you likely won't completely understand what your friend or family member is going through or have all the answers. That's okay! What you can do is give them resources to support their journey where you cannot. 

NKF Peers: This program offers people with kidney failure a safe space to connect with trained mentors via telephone or in-app chat. Speaking 5with people in a similar situation can provide valuable insight and allow people to feel part of a community. 

NKF Cares: Our Patient Information Help Line offers trained specialists who answer questions about kidney failure. To get started, call toll-free at 855.NKF.CARES (855.653.2273) weekdays from 9:00 am - 7:00 pm Eastern Time or email nkfcares@kidney.org.

Kidney Communities: Our online communities offer a safe, anonymous, and supportive place for patients and caregivers to share experiences, ask questions, and get answers related to kidney health, kidney failure, transplantation, and living organ donation.

Prescription discount and assistance resources: Use this free card today to access up to 80% off prescriptions at 60,000 qualifying drug stores nationwide. There is no income qualification, paperwork, or waiting for your pre-activated card to start.

3. Help them find a living donor

For many people, receiving a transplant can improve their quality of life, but there are not enough kidneys for everyone. While NKF is working relentlessly to ensure kidney transplants are available for everyone who needs it, there are still around 100,000 people on the waitlist, and not enough donations to go around. Ask Congress to support living donor protections.

Don't lose hope, though. People everywhere are stepping up to help others live better lives—family, friends, and even total strangers. 

First, identify where you can share their story. Think social media, work, gyms, and schools. 

Then help your friend or family member craft their story and message. Openly sharing who you are, those who love you, and how difficult living with kidney failure is can help potential donors connect with the story. Even if someone isn't interested in donating, they may feel called to share the story and help spread the word. 

Here’s a sample letter/social media post to get you started.

4. Be specific

Instead of a vague, "let me know how I can help," offer specific actions you are comfortable with performing. This can be beneficial, especially for those who have difficulty accepting help. 

Here are some ideas to get you started: 

Here are more ways to help.

5. Keep an eye out for depression

Kidney failure can make a person feel sick and often comes with anxiety, stress, and confusion. With all the changes, it's not uncommon that they would experience depression. However, many people on dialysis may not be aware that they have depression because some symptoms of depression and kidney failure are similar. 

These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Poor appetite
  • Headaches
  • Lack of focus
  • Irritability 
  • Mood swings

Other signs of depression include a lack of interest in activities they usually enjoy, repeated angry outbursts, substance abuse, and social isolation. 

If you notice these changes, encourage them to share their feelings and seek professional help. Their kidney doctor, nurse, or social worker can help determine whether or not they have depression and what treatment option is best. 

Learn more about depression and dialysis.

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