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Multiple conditions pose challenges for assisted living facilities

April 17, 2013

Assisted living facilities help more than 700,000 seniors maintain their independence as they battle sometimes serious health issues, and new government data suggests that many of these individuals are managing more than one condition. The growing prevalence of older adults with multiple chronic conditions poses new challenges for senior health experts, The New York Times reports. 

The findings come from a 2010 study led by the National Center for Health Statistics and reveal that approximately 42 percent of all assisted living residents have some form of dementia that may require memory care, while about 24 percent have both dementia and high blood pressure. Additionally, 9 percent have dementia, high blood pressure and heart disease, which can make the treatment of each condition especially difficult. 

What makes treating multiple chronic conditions so challenging is that medications often carry certain side effects that could exacerbate symptoms of other health issues, the Times notes. For instance, diuretics are often used to treat high blood pressure, but because they tend to cause increased urination, they can have a negative effect on dementia patients, many of whom are incontinent.  Experts say the key is to fully understand the relationship between vascular disease and dementia.

"Much of the way we practice medicine is looking at disease by disease," Dr. Cynthia Boyd, a professor of geriatric medicine at Johns Hopkins, told the publication. "We aren't doing enough thinking about how to add them together and really integrate care."

The findings highlight the need to devise effective ways to manage dementia and other conditions, especially as the amount of seniors living with dementia is expected to rise in the coming decades. Recent estimates from the World Health Organization suggest the number of dementia cases could triple by 2050.