AARP Eye Center
The cruelty of the COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on all Americans, but few with more catastrophic impact than those suffering from Alzheimer's and other dementias, according to a new report from the Alzheimer's Association.
Deaths from Alzheimer's and other dementias skyrocketed 16 percent — killing at least 42,000 additional vulnerable older Americans in 2020 — compared with the averages over the previous five years, noted the 2021 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures.
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Just as alarming: deaths due to Alzheimer's between 2000 and 2019 more than doubled, jumping 145 percent during that period.
Now, even as the nation is being vaccinated entering the second year of the pandemic, the overall Alzheimer's numbers are nothing short of staggering. Some 6.2 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's dementia. That's more than 1 in 9 people over age 65 — and roughly two-thirds of those over age 65 with Alzheimer's dementia are women.
The COVID-dementia connection
"I don't think many people have any idea about the connection between dementia and people dying from COVID-19,” says Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP senior vice president for policy and brain health and executive director of the Global Council on Brain Health. “People are dying not just because they were already sick or old, but also because of the conditions under which they are living."
Sevil Yasar, M.D., an associate professor of medicine and geriatrician at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, certainly is aware of that connection. Even then, she is shocked by the deadly impact on her patients. In a more typical month, she says, perhaps one of her Alzheimer's patients dies. But in January alone, she lost five of her Alzheimer's patients to COVID-19.
"All of them were long-term patients who felt like family — it really gets to you,” she says.
What's more, she predicts, even with the COVID-19 vaccinations that many of her patients and their caregivers are starting to receive, she doesn't believe the death rate will improve much in 2021. That's because so many Alzheimer's and dementia patients suffered through so much stress, depression and agitation in 2020 that it will continue to affect their physical and emotional health in 2021.
"There will be a long-term effect on their well-being,” Yasar says — yet another indirect impact of COVID-19.