by Dr. Tiney Ray

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During the pandemic, we often heard about how comorbidities (other diseases or conditions) could have an impact on a person’s ability to recover from COVID-19. Public service information on comorbidities opened many people’s eyes to how a long-term condition could directly affect others.

And comorbidities are definitely something that must be taken into consideration with Persons Living With Dementia. More than 90% of people living with dementia have another health condition. In persons over the age of 65, the average person without dementia has two comorbidity conditions, while persons over 65 with dementia have an average of four comorbidities.

Common comorbidities for PLWDs include hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, depression, and cerebrovascular disease. These conditions obviously can complicate a dementia diagnosis, and complicate how to care for a PLWD.

If you’re a caregiver working with someone who has comorbidities, then it’s important to understand these additional conditions and their effects. Because it is often difficult for a PLWD to communicate if something is bothering them, you have to train yourself to look for signals that may tip off another health problem that affects your care.

For example, a PLWD who isn’t interested in a walk or a physical activity that they normally enjoy is a flag that something else might be wrong. It may be that arthritic pain is too much and the person is avoiding movement because of it. It might also signal a wave of depression. It’s a good idea to keep a record of times when the person under your care doesn’t respond normally, along with the reason if you can determine it. This can help you quickly address the comorbidity that may be interfering.

It’s also important to follow any monitoring regimens that physicians my have recommended, such as checking blood sugar levels for diabetic patients. A comorbidity can be a trigger that leads to more serious health issues. And when you’re caring for a PLWD, even seemingly minor health concerns can trigger a snowball effect that creates big problems.

Interesting fact:  Over 80% of the reasons PLWD are admitted to the hospital are from comorbidities that are preventable:  falls, fractures, urinary infections, and chest infections.

So if you’re caring for a PLWD, don’t think you’re being over-reactive if you notice something that might be a comorbidity or a complication from a comorbidity. Fast action can stop bigger problems from happening.

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