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Geriatric Diseases and New Research Opportunities

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenApril 20, 2013

There are more than 733,000 elderly people living in assisted living communities across the nation, and that number will exponentially increase as the baby boomer population reaches 65+ in record numbers each day. Interestingly enough, many common elderly ailments seem to overlap, according to a new government study.

3 Linked Elderly DiseasesWith age comes normal aches and pain. This is just plain common sense: our bodies start to wear out as we get older. And when lifestyles changes occur—such as retirement, injuries, loss of a spouse, etc— daily activities and stimulation can be affected. This is when atrophy can take place. Stress can be a catalyst for sickness, as well. Any time a person’s sound mind and body are interrupted, which is common with normal aging and life changes, these types of negative influencers can affect someone’s health.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure and heart disease are the three most common chronic conditions in assisted living communities. In fact, a new government study shows that 82% of residents have at least one of these deadly disease. And we all know that when someone starts medications regularly, side effects can occur. It’s the whole double-edged sword of Western medicine. Read on to find out more about why these diseases overlap and what we can learn from the latest research.

The Big Picture: Studying How Diseases Overlap

Dr. Cynthia Boyd, a professor of geriatric medicine at Johns Hopkins makes a good point: “Much of the way we practice medicine is looking at disease by disease. We aren’t doing enough thinking about how to add them together and really integrate care.” But many medical professionals point out that treating certain conditions is what causes other problems to occur. For example, diuretics to treat high blood pressure often increases the need to urinate; but the problem is that many patients with dementia are already incontinent.  Also, treatments used to lower cholesterol and prevent heart attacks may also have cognitive side effects, which then creates an increased risk for dementia patients. These types of treatment issues often interfere with researching possible interconnections between diseases quite simply because doctors don’t want to put patients at increased risk for new problems.

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How Are These Geriatric Diseases Connected?

According to the study, 42% of assisted living residents have dementia and more than half of the assisted living residents in the U.S. are 85 and older. About 9% have high blood pressure, dementia and some form of heart disease. So what does this mean? The diseases are believed to be linked. For example, the proteins in the brain that are linked to Alzheimer’s may also affect vascular disease. And, of course, the risk for these geriatric diseases increases with age. Those who are 65 are less at risk than those at 80 or 85.

Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a psychiatry professor at Duke, argues that treating dementia and vascular problems may go hand-in-hand. “It’s time for the best minds in vascular research to unite with the best minds in amyloid and tau protein research,” Dr. Doraiswamy wrote last year, referring to the proteins tied to Alzheimer’s disease. “Why don’t we start today?”

Do you think Alzheimer’s and vascular disease are connected? Let us know your thoughts on this article in the comment section below.

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Dana Larsen
Dana Larsen
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