Surge in dementia-related deaths linked to COVID-19 restrictions

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Deaths from dementia and Alzheimer’s rose 20% this summer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 61,000 excess deaths were reported between June and September, almost all attributed to the memory loss diseases.

Health experts suspect the surge is another side effect of COVID-19 restrictions.

Professor Jason Karlawish, co-director of the Penn Memory Center, said he’s not surprised, as vital services have either disappeared or been severely curtailed since the pandemic hit in March.

“Family members have told us stories of residents developing worsening agitation, social withdraw, losing weight, not getting out of bed, falling, and tragically, some of them expiring either in the long-term care facility or going to the hospital and then just getting caught in that awful cascade of going to the hospital until enough is enough,” he said Karlawish.

Some pandemic-related restrictions have also limited in-home care.

“The social distancing and isolation that was necessitated to try and limit the spread of this deadly disease shut down a lot of adult day care programs, kept people from coming into people’s houses, kept people from going out,” he continued. “The result was you just took away the long-term care services and support, further stressing the American family.”

What’s developed, according to Karlawish, is an ethical dilemma.

“We just can’t have people coming freely in and out of long-term care facilities to see their relatives and provide care without the precautions to prevent the spread of infection,” he said. “And yet, what we have seen and revealed is that visitors to long-term care facilities are not just visitors, they’re essential caregivers.”

Dementia patient support groups are calling for reforms, such as rapid testing, to allow relatives to visit their loved ones in nursing homes.