Study uncovers complexity of dementia

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

By Farrah Chow, Marketing and Strategic Communications

One in four older people living at home with dementia also have other serious neurological conditions like stroke and Parkinson’s disease, a  study has found.

“We all know someone affected by Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia,” says study co-author  Colleen Maxwell , a professor in Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy. “The co-existence of other conditions in these individuals adds to the complexity of their health and social care needs.

“Living with dementia is one thing but having other illnesses present with dementia is another,” says Maxwell, who is calling for improved care programs for people with dementia and their caregivers.

A person with dementia, who has trouble making decisions about everything from dressing to taking their medication, will struggle to navigate the complex health care system if they’re also dealing with other health and social needs, says Maxwell.

The study, which will appear in the next issue of Chronic Diseases and Injuries in Canada, analysed the health of home care clients aged 50 years and over from across Ontario. A collaboration among researchers at the University of Waterloo and three other Canadian universities, the study also found that 40 per cent of clients with dementia don’t live with their primary caregiver.

Complex home care clients often live alone

“Older persons with dementia who live alone or lack a close family may be at greater risk for falling through the cracks,” says Maxwell, who is cross-appointed to Waterloo’s School of Public Health and Health Systems. “We worry about them experiencing fragmented care because they may be at risk of poorer detection and treatment of other co-existing neurological and health conditions.”

Maxwell hopes her research will be part of a move to improve care and caregiver assistance programs to deal with the complex needs of people living at home with dementia. Efforts to improve communication and assistance for family caregivers are needed so they can better support their loved ones who are dealing with very complex health issues and a complicated health care system.

Two professors from Waterloo’s School of Public Health and Health Systems, George Heckman and John Hirdes are co-authors on the study, as well as Waterloo alumna Mary Vu, now senior analyst at the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

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