In order to better understand the coronavirus, researchers have been working hard trying to figure out who’s more likely to get infected, experience severe symptoms, and die from Covid-19. We already know that people with preexisting conditions are at much higher risk of dying from complications. Now, researchers say they have identified another health condition that doubles your risk of COVID.
People With Dementia at Higher Risk for COVID-19
A new study published in the journal Alzheimers & Dementia, found that individuals with dementia were twice as likely to contract COVID. They were also significantly more likely to be hospitalized and die from it than those without the neurodegenerative condition.
“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, dean emerita of the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. “These patients may constitute another vulnerable category. However, more work is required to understand the mechanism by which this occurs.”
They also discovered that African Americans with dementia were almost three times as likely to become infected with the virus than Caucasians with the condition. “This study highlights the need to protect people with dementia — particularly African Americans — as part of the strategy to control the pandemic,” the authors wrote in the study.
The research team from Case Western Reserve University reviewed electronic health records from 360 hospitals and 317,000 health care providers across all 50 states. Of the 61.9 million Americans in the study population, more than one million had dementia, 15,770 had COVID-19 and 810 had both. An estimated 5.8 million Americans age 65 and older and 50 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
They researchers hypothesized the risk of COVID-19 would be greater for patients with dementia for several reasons, including: People with dementia may be more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 because of blood-brain barrier damage that can allow certain viruses and bacteria to reach the brain more easily.
In addition, dementia may interfere with a person’s ability to wear a mask, physically distance from others or frequently clean their hands. Moreover, conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity and hypertension are risk factors for both dementia and COVID-19 and are associated with worse outcomes.
“On behalf of the millions of people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia that we represent, these preliminary findings suggest a frightening reality of the vulnerabilities associated with dementia,” said Maria Carrillo, PhD, Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer. “It is critical we develop and implement strategies that strike a balance between keeping people, especially long-term care residents, safe from COVID-19 but also protecting them from health-related harms associated with social isolation.”
Some Dementia Patients Face Greater Risks Than Others
After adjusting for factors including age, gender, race, and other health issues, the results uncovered the link between COVID and dementia. This risk, however, can be higher depending on the form of dementia a patient has.
- While overall the odds of contracting COVID-19 were twice as high for patients with dementia compared to those without dementia, the risk varied by condition. Patients with vascular dementia had the highest risk — with odds more than three times higher — followed by patients with presenile dementia, senile dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and post-traumatic dementia.
- The odds of African Americans with dementia contracting COVID-19 were almost three times higher than for Caucasians with dementia. Generally, gender had no additional effects on the risk of COVID-19 in patients with dementia, while age had no additional effects in patients with dementia in general and Alzheimer’s specifically.
- The overall hospitalization risk during the six months for adults with COVID-19 only was 25.17%. But among patients with both COVID-19 and dementia, 59.26% were hospitalized, and the percentage was even higher — 73.08% — among African American patients, compared to 53.85% of Caucasians with both conditions.
- The overall mortality risk for patients with COVID-19 was 5.64%. But among those who also had dementia, 20.99% died, with the percentage higher for African Americans (23.08%) than for Caucasians (19.23%).