Mary Epp awoke from a deep sleep to the "high, shrill" sound of her dialysis machine's alarm. Something was wrong.
It was 1 a.m. and Epp, 89, was alone at home in Marion Junction, Ala. No matter. Epp has been on home dialysis since 2012, and she knew what to do: Check the machine, then call the 24/7 help line at her dialysis provider in Birmingham, Ala. to talk to a nurse.
The issue Epp identified: Hours before, a woman she hired to help her out had put up two small bags of dialysis solution instead of the large ones, and the solution had run out.
The nurse reassured Epp that she'd had enough dialysis. Epp tried to detach herself from the machine, but she couldn't remove a cassette, a key part. A man on another 24/7 help line run by the machine's manufacturer helped with that problem.
Was it difficult troubleshooting these issues? "Not really: I'm used to it," Epp said, although she didn't sleep soundly again that night.
If policymakers have their way, older adults with serious, irreversible kidney disease will increasingly turn to home dialysis. In July, the Trump administration made that clear in an executive order meant to fundamentally alter how patients with kidney disease are managed in the U.S.
Changing care for the sickest patients -- about 726,000 people with end-stage kidney disease -- is a top priority. Of these patients, 88% receive treatment in dialysis centers and 12% get home dialysis.
By 2025, administration officials say, 80% of patients newly diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease patients should receive home dialysis or kidney transplants. Older adults are sure to be affected: Half of the 125,000 people who learn they have kidney failure each year are 65 or older.
Home dialysis has potential benefits: It's more convenient than traveling to a dialysis center; recovery times after treatment are shorter; therapy can be delivered more often and more readily individualized, putting less strain on a person's body; and "patients' quality of life tends to be much better," said Dr. Frank Liu, director of home hemodialysis at the Rogosin Institute in New York City.
But home dialysis isn't right for everyone. Seniors with bad eyesight, poor fine-motor coordination, depression or cognitive impairment generally can't undertake this therapy, specialists note. Similarly, frail older adults with multiple conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular disease may need significant assistance from family members or friends.