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Quality of Life on Dialysis

Written by DaVita Social Worker Dana VonAustin, LCSW

The only person who can measure your quality of life is you. Quality of life is defined as the amount of enjoyment and satisfaction that a person gets from his/her daily routine. Now’s the time to do a little soul searching and answer a few questions:

  • Do you live from dialysis appointment to dialysis appointment?
  • Or, have you made dialysis just a part of your life that enables you to enjoy the rest?
  • Are you living the way you want to live?
  • Are you living to the best of your ability?

If you are new to dialysis, you may still be feeling physically tired, and you may still be getting used to the routine of going to treatments three days a week. But after a few dialysis treatments, your blood should be cleaner, your anemia should be treated providing you more energy and you should begin to feel better and be able to get enjoyment from your life.

To achieve quality of life, make sure that you are caring for yourself in all ways: body, mind and spirit. Treating the whole person will put you on the path to success.

Caring For Your Body

Your body is your vehicle to move through life. The same way you get your car’s oil changed, get the engine tuned up and fill it up with gas to keep it running, your body requires its maintenance, too. Keep your dialysis appointments and stay for your entire hemodialysis run to get your blood as clean as possible. Perform your peritoneal dialysis (PD) exchanges just as you were taught. Visit your doctor for scheduled medical appointments and speak up when you need help. Work with your dietitian to determine the best diet for you, and pay attention to your lab work to make adjustments in your diet when necessary. Remember to take prescribed medicines including your phosphorus binders when you eat.

You wouldn’t want to leave your car parked in the garage all the time, take your body out, too. A little exercise does a lot of good. Whether you water your plants, walk around the block or play a game of basketball, finding the right activity for you will help your body keep moving. Talk to your doctor about which activities will be helpful for your body. 

Caring For Your Mind

In addition to helping your body, diet and exercise help keep your mind sharp and centered. It’s amazing what a good phosphorus level and fresh air can do for your mind. Again, your dietitian will have lots of ideas of how to make your food plan work for you, and your doctor and social worker can provide for more information on exercise opportunities.

You may also want to read up on kidney disease and dialysis to learn all you can about what you are experiencing. Peace of mind comes from knowing you are doing the best for yourself. Education will help you make good decisions about your treatment. You’ll also stimulate your mind by learning new things.

Read the daily paper, keep a journal, send letters to friends, listen to music, visit an art museum or do any other activity that requires thinking. Staying involved in the world around you keeps your mind active.

Caring For Your Spirit

Take time for yourself and connect with people who provide you with positive feedback and support. Revisit things that have been uplifting to you in the past. Whether it’s rereading a favorite book, cooking a delicious dinner or calling a beloved friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile, treat yourself to something you enjoy; something that lifts your spirits.

Nourish yourself by acknowledging what you need to stay centered. Pay attention to what you are feeling and ask yourself what you need. While no one can be centered 100% of the time; you can achieve a greater sense of self by staying attuned to your feelings.

Seek out the sources that help you stay positive. If visiting your grandchildren makes you happy, invite them over or give them a call. Be sure to spend time with people you care about. Watch a television program that holds your interest. A positive experience can lead to a positive attitude, which can make any day a better one.

More ideas for living a quality life

Now that you are aware of the basics, you may want to look at other areas that may interest you. Here are some ideas to think about:


You may find enjoyment in having a job and earning a regular paycheck. Even if the job is part-time or not in the career field you were in before you were diagnosed with chronic kidney disease and started dialysis, there are options out there. Talk to the social worker at your dialysis center for resources in your area. The Department of Rehabilitation and other vocational resources (such as some hospital programs, non-profit agencies, and others) are available to help you find a job that you enjoy and are capable of doing. You may find the greatest perk of working is that you are providing a service to society.

Volunteer work

The need for volunteer work in our communities is so vast that there really is something for everyone. Talk to your social worker about what interests you and for ideas on what you can do.  For just an hour or two a week, you can make a real difference in the lives of those who need help. Consider volunteering to help children, the elderly or animals. You can tutor, read, or just visit with someone who is lonely. There are also opportunities to volunteer at parks, hospitals, libraries and other institutions. Check your local newspaper, go online, or open your local yellow pages for information on different organizations that are looking for volunteers. Your social worker can help you get in contact with a group that could use your help.

Support and educate new dialysis patients

Nobody can help a new dialysis patient quite like another dialysis patient when entering the environment of dialysis. Oftentimes, starting dialysis is overwhelming. Most people don’t learn they have kidney disease until they need dialysis. They have questions, fears and an adjustment period that you may be able to relate to. Talk to your facility administrator or social worker to find out if there is a program in your center to greet patients. They may also be able to provide you with more ideas on how to help fellow patients.

Education, classes, hobbies, arts and crafts

Most community colleges offer low or no cost courses for folks who are disabled. If you are on dialysis you will qualify as someone who is disabled. You will find arts and crafts courses to take, as well as other options. If you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), there is usually no cost to take classes. Check local adult schools in your area as well. This is a fun and no pressure way to stay active. Depending on what kind of classes you take, you can benefit your body, mind and spirit.

Hopefully this article will inspire you to give some thought to your quality of life. The ideas listed here are just a few suggestions that may work for you. Above all, remember, you are worth the effort to build a lifestyle you are happy with. If you feel your quality of life is poor, please talk to your doctor or social worker. They are there to help you have the quality of life you deserve.