Disease Overlap

42% of assisted living residents have dementia; 9% have dementia, high blood pressure AND heart disease.

Many studies have suggested a link between vascular disease and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s, and researchers are focusing on possible interconnections. Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a psychiatry professor at Duke, argues that it may not be possible to treat dementia without treating vascular problems.

But treating patients with multiple conditions can be very difficult. “We don’t universally do a great job of how we treat conditions that overlap, for example Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure,” said Dr. Cynthia Boyd, a professor of geriatric medicine at Johns Hopkins.

Diuretics to treat high blood pressure, for example, often increase the need to urinate, yet many patients with dementia are already incontinent. Some studies have suggested that on rare occasions statins used to lower cholesterol and prevent heart attacks may also have cognitive side effects, which could complicate care for dementia patients.

“Much of the way we practice medicine is looking at disease by disease,” Dr. Boyd said. “We aren’t doing enough thinking about how to add them together and really integrate care.”

Click here to view statistics on overlapping diseases in assisted living facilities.

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