An unsettling correlation between dementia and the coronavirus in older adults has been discovered by a recent government study. Data collected from more than 28 million Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in parts A and B shows that those with dementia are more likely to contract COVID-19 and die from the disease than the general Medicare population.
- Nearly 1 in 3 beneficiaries with the brain disorder died from the coronavirus.
- Between Febuary 28 and September 27 of 2020, approximately 166,485 Medicare beneficiaries with dementia were diagnosed with COVID-19.
- 53,490 beneficiaries with dementia died from COVID-19 during the study period, a 32.1 percent mortality rate, accounting for nearly 45 percent of all deaths among Medicare beneficaries.
- Of the 14 common health conditions such as chronic kidney disease, cardiac disorder, and obesity, seniors with dementia had the highest rates for COVID-19 diagnosis and death.
- The likelihood of being diagnosed with COVID-19 was 1.5 times greater for adults with dementia and the risk of dying was 1.6 times higher.
“It is important for the public, including people living with dementia, family caregivers, and providers, to understand the heightened risk of mortality among this population,” stated the HHS report.
It’s still unclear what, exactly, makes people with dementia more vulnerable to COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of people with dementia are older than 65, which is the same age group that has shouldered about 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths.
“This may be the result of COVID-19’s damaging effects on pulmonary, cerebrovascular, and renal systems, which may already be compromised by underlying diseases associated with dementia,” experts from the CDC theorize.
Other studies suggest that people with dementia may be more susceptible to COVID-19 because of blood-brain barrier (BBB) damage that makes it easier for viruses and bacteria to travel from the person’s blood into the brain.
Other effects of dementia
Memory impairment can also make it more difficult for someone with dementia to abide COVID-19 precautions like remembering to social distance, wear a mask, or frequently wash their hands.
Generally speaking, older adults with dementia are also more likely to have a chronic health condition that increases their risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Still, “dementia may exacerbate the risk to these individuals,” the report’s authors write, since controlling for these characteristics still resulted in greater risk for COVID-19 diagnosis and death among people with dementia.