According to a study by Case Western Reserve, patients with dementia are at a significantly increased risk for COVID-19. This risk was found to be even higher for African Americans with dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.8 million Americans aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. This study is one of many outlying the specific health concerns for those with cognitive diseases in relation to COVID-19.
The study reviewed electronic health records of 61.9 million adults in the U.S. and found the risk of contracting COVID-19 was twice as high for patients with dementia compared to those without. In African American patients, the risk was close to three times the risk of being infected with COVID-19 compared to Caucasians.
It was also noted that patients with dementia who contracted COVID-19 had significantly worse outcomes in hospitalizations and deaths than those who had COVID-19 but not dementia.
The electronic health records were from 360 hospitals and 317,000 providers nationally, representing 20% of the U.S. population. Of the 61.9 million adults in the study population, more than one million had dementia, 15,770 had COVID-19, and 810 had both.
The study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association aims to highlight the need to protect people with dementia, particularly African Americans. They believe these steps can be part of the strategy to control the pandemic.
“Our results emphasize how important it is to protect those with dementia from acquiring SARS-CoV2, for they are at higher risk for severe disease than those without dementia,” said study co-author Pamela Davis. “These patients may constitute another vulnerable category. However, more work is required to understand the mechanism by which this occurs.”
Several Reasons for Risks
Researchers believe that the risk of COVID-19 would be greater for patients with dementia for several reasons. People with dementia may be more susceptible to COVID because of the blood-brain barrier damage that allows certain viruses and bacteria to reach the brain more easily.
Patients with dementia also tend to have problems with the ability to wear a mask, physically distance from others, or frequently clean their hands.
Researchers also note that cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension are risk factors for both dementia and COVID-19 and have associations with worse outcomes.
These preliminary findings suggest a frightening reality of the vulnerabilities associated with dementia. Researchers hope this new information can help to develop and implement strategies that strike a balance between keeping people safe from COVID-19, and at the same time, protecting them from health-related harms associated with social isolation.