A study of more than 60 million adults in the United States shows that people with dementia are at significantly higher risk of getting COVID-19.
People with dementia are at heightened risk of contracting an infection from the novel coronavirus and have significantly greater rates of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 than those without dementia, according to a recent study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
Even after the researchers accounted for COVID-19’s well-known risk factors (i.e. age, nursing home residency and comorbidities including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease), people with dementia were twice as likely to be infected with COVID-19 compared to individuals without dementia.
“[The study’s findings are] pretty convincing in suggesting that there’s something about dementia that makes you more vulnerable,” University of California San Francisco Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry Kristine Yaffe, who was not involved in the study, told the New York Times.
The study also indicated that people with dementia were 2.6 times more likely to be hospitalized and 4.4 times more likely to die than those without dementia, though these numbers do not account for demographics, underlying medical conditions or nursing home residency.
Even after the researchers accounted for COVID-19’s well-known
risk factors, people with dementia were twice as likely to be infected
with COVID-19 compared to individuals without dementia.
Experts said there may be a combination of behavioral, biological and physical factors that could render individuals with dementia more vulnerable to COVID-19.
The authors of the study suggested that impaired memory could make it more difficult for people to follow COVID-19 safety protocols such as social distancing, mask wearing or hand washing, which could increase their risk of getting COVID-19.
Individuals with dementia who are infected with the virus may also be susceptible to severe complications due to their physical frailty, which Dr. Yaffe said could diminish their ability to fight off infections.
Alzheimer’s Association Chief Science Officer Maria Carrillo told the Times that for many people with dementia who have vascular impairment, COVID-19 may aggravate their condition as the coronavirus is linked with an inflammatory response that affects the body’s system of transporting blood and fluids.
While more research is needed to validate and broaden the study’s findings, Carillo noted that the results underscore the importance of protecting people with dementia from the virus, and at the same time, meeting their needs for human connection to the extent possible.
“These preliminary findings suggest a frightening reality of the vulnerabilities associated with dementia,” she said in a news release. “It is critical we develop and implement strategies that strike a balance between keeping people, especially long-term care residents, safe from COVID-19 but also protecting them from health-related harms associated with social isolation.”
Read more about the study in the New York Times.
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