Kidney Transplants Improve Cognitive Performance in Patients with Chronic Kidney Disease

Kidney transplants lead to improved mental performance in people with kidney disease, new research shows.

Individuals with chronic kidney disease often suffer from cognitive impairment, but it is unclear to what extent outside factors such as age and medication play a role.

To investigate the effect of kidney transplantation on the mental performance of individuals with kidney disease, lead author Mark Unruh, MD, and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh compared kidney transplantation to dialysis only. They assessed cognitive performance before and after kidney transplantation and dialysis using neuropsychological tests related to language, learning and memory, attention, and other brain processes involved with thought and behavior.

“These findings support the position that kidney transplantation provides optimal replacement of renal function and an opportunity to improve quality of life and rehabilitation in individuals with advanced chronic kidney disease,” Unruh said.

The 37 individuals who received kidney transplants in this study significantly improved their overall cognitive performance, specifically performing better on verbal learning and memory and working memory tasks than individuals who received dialysis. The investigators did not find any improvement in individuals not undergoing the surgical procedure. In fact, test scores declined in these individuals over time.

“The findings from this study highlight an important but often overlooked benefit of kidney transplantation and provide further encouraging evidence that the cognitive deficits seen in patients with kidney failure are reversible,” said Manjula Tamura, MD, at Stanford University Medical Center’s nephrology department.