Keeping your brain sharp on Dialysis – Part 1

One of the (many) fears I had about going onto the Big D was that I would become a dullard (or perhaps a greater dullard; all things are relative).  Back in 1995, my Doctor John Dawborn warned me that after kidney failure, I would have extra toxins on my bloodstream, reduced oxygen levels to the brain and a more sedentary lifestyle (due to feeling less well), all of which could slow me down mentally, so that I may not be able to finish The Age newspaper’s crossword.

I didn’t like this news at all, especially since I struggled with the crossword already.

However, during the first few years on the Big D, working with John, who is a creative and innovative individual, I found that there were four things I could do to hang on to my meagre allowance of grey matter.  Here they are, in order of importance and effect:

  1. Shorter, More Frequent Big D
  2. Physical Exercise
  3. Mental exercise
  4. Substances, both legal and iffy.

1.    Shorter, More Frequent Big D

I started on the Big D three times a week, five hours per time.  This certainly delivered all the expected bad effects; it was a week-long rollercoaster with three big climbs and three steep falls.  Monday, after a five-hour Big D session extracting excess fluid and concentrated toxins I felt weak and washed out, and pretty well lost the remainder of the day resting and recovering.  The next day I felt fine for a while, until the fluid and toxins built up again.  Wednesday, extract, Thursday build up; Friday extract, weekend build up; Monday begin ride again.

In 1996, John had read of experience where shorter, more frequent dialysis tended to smooth out the rollercoaster and make life more liveable.  So as a trial, I was the first in my street to move from three 5-hour sessions, to five 3-hour sessions (with Friday and Sunday off).  What a difference!  I have never and will never return to the big dipper!

Each session is shorter, which makes work a practical option, and since I’m there almost every day, toxins and fluid have less time to build up, so there are less to remove, so less impact on my body, and I feel fine when I come off.  The rest of each day is mine, and both my mind and body are up and running.

As an additional benefit, because I go most days (five out of seven days) I have an almost unrestricted diet.

I know that five-weekly sessions are not always economically possible, but if you have private insurance, or you dialyse at home, or you can also go to the Big D under an assumed name, go for it.

Once you have tamed the rollercoaster, you are ready and able to understand the secrets of Step 2 – Physical Exercise, the subject of my next post.

8 thoughts on “Keeping your brain sharp on Dialysis – Part 1

  1. Couldn’t agree more, discuss the options with your Doctor, also talk to the people that know like Greg. As a nurse of 30 years plus (dialysis dinosaur) I cannot belive how well and fit those people who do more days and shorter hours are able to maintain almost a “normal” lifestyle. More days are not for every-one but most important be informed.


  2. Greg So interesting…It’s one of those ‘of course’ situations that take an age to discover and minutes to be convinced of the benefits! so pleased that shorter more frequent visits to the Big D bring a less roller coaster existence…Is it too expensive and too crowded in the public health system (to have patients use this more beneficial 5 day system)?Does the cost not equate with the long-term benefits ? ie the fit n well factor keeping people away from the ‘more treatment’ Marg


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  4. As someone who has been on dialysis before, I can think of nothing worse than being at a dialysis center for five or more days per week at three hours per day. Who are the people who wish to do this? Certainly not real patients who know what its like to do real dialysis, sitting in a chair in a dialysis center, no matter how comfortable. A successful transplantation will beat any “good feeling”, any dialysis day!! Or maybe more efficient dialysers (kidney, as some put it) that give a “greater bang for the buck” without leaving the patient exhausted and “washed out”. What say ye??


    • Donna, I don’t think you’ll get much argument when you say having a transplant beats dialysing. I have had two transplants, and once I got through the drama of rejection and infection, I enjoyed the freedom and didn’t want to go back.

      However, eventually, both failed and I am back on the BigD. I didn’t like going back, but now that I am, the last thing I want is to return to the roller coaster of 3 days per week. I feel much healthier on five day dialysis. I can eat better, exercise more and do more. I’m happy to sacrifice a few hours a week for that. And if I must be there, I make the most of it, reading, writing, emailing, watching videos, catching up. It’s not lost time.

      And it’s not just me. Many people I know have moved to five-day BigD for a week as a trial and never gone back. Real people on real dialysis.

      But everyone is different and we all deal with it our way. Whatever works for you.


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