People with dementia face more than twice the risk of catching, dying of COVID-19

People with dementia are TWICE as likely to catch COVID-19 and more than FOUR times more likely to die from the virus, new US study of 62 million people finds

  • Case Western University researchers analyzed millions of electronic health records in the US 
  • Of more than 15,000 cases of COVID-19, they found 810 people who also had dementia 
  • Dementia alone doubled the risks of catching coronavirus and the combination of dementia and other factors like living in nursing home tripled the risk 
  • People with dementia were 2.6 times to be hospitalized for COVID-19 and 4.4 times more likely to die of it than others 
  • Black patients with dementia were twice as likely to catch coronavirus compared to white people with memory loss  

People who have dementia are more than twice as likely to contract COVID-19 and face four times higher risks of dying of the infection, compared to those without degenerative memory loss, a massive new study of 62 million medical records finds. 

And black people with dementia face even higher risks, researchers at Case Western University, who analyzed the medical records of millions of Americans. 

People with dementia face a host of simple but profound risk factors: they are less likely to remember to wear a mask properly, or at all, commonly live in covid-prone nursing homes and rely heavily on caretakers in close contact. 

The scientists are also worried that Alzheimer’s patients may be particularly at risk of dying if they catch COVID-19 because both the memory loss disease and the viral infection trigger dangerous inflammation. 

People with dementia are 2.6 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 – and risks are even higher for black dementia patients (blue), the study found 

Mortality risks were a stunning 4.4 times higher for dementia patients of any race, compared to those who don't have dementia. Risks were comparable for black (blue) and white (orange) patients

Mortality risks were a stunning 4.4 times higher for dementia patients of any race, compared to those who don’t have dementia. Risks were comparable for black (blue) and white (orange) patients 

Among the health records of nearly 62 million people 18 and older who were seen by doctors between February 1 and August 21 of last year, the researchers found 15,770 cases of COVID-19. 

Among those, 810 had also been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. 

Compared to the general population, COVID-19 was more than three times more common among those with dementia.

However, their risks were more complicated than those posed by the disease alone. 

About half of people in the US who have dementia live in nursing homes, which are hotbeds for COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Despite making up one percent of the US population, nursing home residents account for 36 percent of COVID-19 deaths. 

Even after accounting for this risk factor, the Case Western scientists found that dementia doubles the risk of catching COVID-19. 

And people with dementia and coronavirus were 2.6 times more likely to need to be hospitalized for the infection, compared to those who were spared the memory loss condition. 

With older age being a primary risk factor for both COVID-19 fatality and dementia, experts suspected that the coronavirus death rate would be higher among people with the cognitive disease. 

The researchers found they were an astounding 4.4 times more likely to die of the virus, compared to people without dementia. 

Although there was only a small number of black patients for whom they had records, they were three times more likely to catch coronavirus than white people, and significantly more likely to be hospitalized for the infection. 

The difference in mortality rates of black and white patients were not statistically significant, but the researchers suspect this may be due to the small sample size. 

‘This study highlights the need to protect patients with dementia, especially those who are black,’ the authors wrote in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.  

Because they are both elderly and commonly live in nursing homes, a significant proportion of the population that has dementia has likely been vaccinated now – although the underlying condition itself did not put them in the highest priority groups. 

The study highlights the importance of quickly vaccinating this group who may die at very high rates if they catch COVID-19 – and may be less able to abide by measures to prevent the spread of the disease. 

‘Folks with dementia are more dependent on those around them to do the safety stuff, to remember to wear a mask, to keep people away through social distancing,’ Dr Kenneth Langa, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the study, told 

‘There is the cognitive impairment and the fact that they are more socially at risk,’ he said.


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