Structural and Functional Changes With the Aging Kidney

Adv Chronic Kidney Dis. 2016 Jan;23(1):19-28. doi: 10.1053/j.ackd.2015.08.004.


Senescence or normal physiologic aging portrays the expected age-related changes in the kidney as compared to a disease that occurs in some but not all individuals. The microanatomical structural changes of the kidney with older age include a decreased number of functional glomeruli from an increased prevalence of nephrosclerosis (arteriosclerosis, glomerulosclerosis, and tubular atrophy with interstitial fibrosis), and to some extent, compensatory hypertrophy of remaining nephrons. Among the macroanatomical structural changes, older age associates with smaller cortical volume, larger medullary volume until middle age, and larger and more numerous kidney cysts. Among carefully screened healthy kidney donors, glomerular filtration rate (GFR) declines at a rate of 6.3 mL/min/1.73 m(2) per decade. There is reason to be concerned that the elderly are being misdiagnosed with CKD. Besides this expected kidney function decline, the lowest risk of mortality is at a GFR of ≥75 mL/min/1.73 m(2) for age <55 years but at a lower GFR of 45 to 104 mL/min/1.73 m(2) for age ≥65 years. Changes with normal aging are still of clinical significance. The elderly have less kidney functional reserve when they do actually develop CKD, and they are at higher risk for acute kidney injury.

Keywords: Aging; Glomerular filtration rate; Glomerulosclerosis; Kidney function; Nephrosclerosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Glomerular Filtration Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Kidney / pathology*
  • Kidney / physiopathology*
  • Renal Insufficiency / diagnosis
  • Renal Insufficiency / pathology*
  • Renal Insufficiency / physiopathology*