Coronavirus, dementia and the higher risks: People with dementia must be better protected
New data has shown dementia is the most common pre-existing condition found among deaths involving COVID-19. Risks for people living with dementia are greater than ever and Alzheimer's Society won't stop until people living with dementia are better protected.
Some of this may be distressing to read but please know that we are here for you during this difficult time. Please call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 if you need someone to talk to.
Last week, the Office of National Statistics published new figures that have shown the extent to which people living with dementia are being negatively impacted during the coronavirus pandemic.
We already know that people living with dementia and many older family carers are among those who face the more severe effects of coronavirus.
However, to discover from last week’s new data that dementia is the most common pre-existing condition found among deaths involving COVID-19 is even more worrying.
Sadly, a quarter of people who died with coronavirus in March and April 2020 in England and Wales had dementia. This is a total of 8,577 people.
Research is now emerging to show that, after adjusting for age and other long-term conditions, dementia itself could increase the risk of severe COVID-19 and death. Further research is now being undertaken to understand the link between the two.
It is not yet clear how much it increases the risk or why, but we know that we have to ensure that people affected by dementia are protected as much as possible.
Sharp rise in deaths from dementia in April
What’s even more striking and of further concern is that deaths from dementia in England during April 2020 were 83 per cent higher than usual, and 54 per cent higher in Wales.
In April 2020, there were an additional 9,891 deaths from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease without a diagnosis of COVID-19, making dementia itself the second highest cause of death after COVID-19.
In care homes, more people died of dementia and Alzheimer's disease than died of coronavirus in March and April 2020, despite the prevalence of pandemic throughout these environments.
People living with dementia are not only at risk of the virus itself, but we are hearing that their usual health services and support is being interrupted and cut off, causing a sharp rise in deaths.
Health support has been interrupted
In a survey of care home staff that Alzheimer’s Society published last week, we found that 75 per cent of respondents said GPs had been reluctant to visit residents in recent weeks.
Additionally, a quarter of respondents felt that residents should have been admitted to hospital with COVID-19 and haven’t.
It is understandable that the NHS needs to be protected during this time. However, this cannot be to the detriment of saving people’s lives, which it is designed to do.
Most of all, we are worried about the impact of a loss of family contact for people with dementia.
Regular social contact with loved ones not only helps people living with dementia to feel secure, but also helps them to maintain basic cognition and communication skills.
As the pandemic continues, we are hearing more and more stories from families and care home staff that distancing is causing people to lose recognition of loved ones, or to deteriorate more rapidly, which could also explain this sharp increase in deaths from dementia.
We need a plan from Government to support people with dementia through this crisis
As we emerge from the initial shock of coronavirus, we need an urgent plan from Government to guarantee safety and support of people living in the community and care homes with dementia.
There is clear evidence that people living with dementia are amongst those most negatively impacted so there is not excuse for this not to be addressed with suitable solutions.
We also need Ministers to look at long term support for people with dementia and implement appropriate measures for them to maintain contact with loved ones.
If a lack of contact is having serious health implications for people living with dementia, we need the Government to take measures that keep them safe and alive.
People with dementia are dying in unprecedented numbers. The Government must step in right now to prevent further tragedy. We won’t stop until we see this happen. Join our campaign to stand with people affected by dementia.