Objectives: To compare the medical comorbidity of older patients with and without dementia in primary care.
Design: Cross-sectional study.
Setting: Wishard Health Services, which includes a university-affiliated, urban public hospital and seven community-based primary care practice centers in Indianapolis.
Participants: Three thousand thirteen patients aged 65 and older attending seven primary care centers in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Measurements: An expert panel diagnosed dementia using International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision, criteria. Comorbidity was assessed using 10 physician-diagnosed chronic comorbid conditions and the Chronic Disease Score (CDS).
Results: Patients with dementia attending primary care have on average 2.4 chronic conditions and receive 5.1 medications. Approximately 50% of dementia patients in this setting are exposed to at least one anticholinergic medication, and 20% are prescribed at least one psychotropic medication. After adjusting for patients' age, race, and sex, patients with and without dementia have a similar level of comorbidity (mean number of chronic medical conditions, 2.4 vs 2.3, P=.66; average CDS, 5.8 vs 6.2, P=.83).
Conclusion: Multiple medical comorbid conditions are common in older adults with and without dementia in primary care. Despite their cholinergic deficit, a substantial proportion of patients with dementia are exposed to anticholinergic medications. Models of care that incorporate this medical complexity are needed to improve the treatment of dementia in primary care.