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Deaths with dementia have increased by 10% since onset of COVID-19 pandemic: WaPo

2020-09-16
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A new article in the Washington Post dated September 16 reveals that deaths from dementia have dramatically increased since nursing homes were isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Here’s a quote from the article:

more than 134,200 people have died from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia since March. That is 13,200 more U.S. deaths caused by dementia than expected, compared with previous years, according to an analysis of federal data by The Washington Post.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/09/16/coronavirus-dementia-alzheimers-deaths/?arc404=true

That is a roughly ten percent increase in death rates, not due to the novel coronavirus, but due to depression, anorexia (loss of appetite), falls, lung infections (like pneumonia), and “sudden frailty.” Many of those who declined and died had been stable for some time.

The declines appear to be due to isolation. Family members are no longer allowed to hug, kiss, or hold hands. Visits, even by video phone, have decreased as well. Patients are no longer allowed to socialize among themselves. Activities like Jazzercise helped patients physically and mentally, but they are no longer possible in isolation. Patients are no longer able to eat together.

These contacts may have maintained some degree of mental stimulation that prevented continued declines. Without them, patients are becoming more depressed and anxious. Reduced physical activity and mental stimulation causes physical deterioration.

Nursing homes have struggled with borderline fiscal support for years. Patients’ relatives have filled in with feeding, bathing, and stimulation to supplement paid work by nurse’s aides. The relatives can no longer perform these assisting activities, which leads to poorer care.

The money that has been provided by Congress for emergency help has not gone to nursing homes. Testing is still minimal, and personal protective equipment is in short supply. Nurse’s aides, who are afraid of being infected, have stopped going to work in some cases and are more difficult to hire.

This is one reason why 40% of the coronavirus deaths in this pandemic have occurred in nursing homes. To add to the increased vulnerability of elderly, chronically ill patients to the virus, there is the fragility of nursing home care. Now it is clear that patients are dying of simple neglect due to quarantines and understaffed homes.

Postscript:

Here’s the most popular comment to the Washington Post story:

The point of a public health lockdown is to buy a short amount of time to allow classic public health measures to be implemented to limit disease spread.  Since the administration has not implemented even basic public health measures ( and in fact, has thwarted attempts of the CDC and the states to do so), we are stuck in this state of near-permanent lockdown.  It did not have to be this way.

Thanks to you, Mr. Wan, for documenting the devastating impact that this prolonged lockdown has on patients in assisted living and nursing homes. 

submitted by Blues89

The rest of the country has been “opened up” in part due to armed demonstrators invading the state’s legislatures– but the nursing homes are still “locked down.” Public health measures like personal protective equipment and frequent testing are simply not available. Nothing has been done to relieve the conditions in nursing homes.

Post-PostScript:

Here’s another popular comment, with some practical advice:

This is a tragic consequence of the inadequacy of public health in the U.S. My mother is 91 and has been in assisted living for almost four years. She was only recently been given a diagnosis of dementia. Her cognitive abilities and her mood have seriously declined since our frequent visits were halted. Luckily, her doctor agreed to write a referral for hospice. The primary benefit— which we didn’t even know about when we asked for hospice — is that we are now allowed to visit her in her room daily, rather than once a week for a half hour on the patio. The rules differ between facilities, but anyone in a similar situation should look into hospice. At least here in NJ, we didn’t need a definitive terminal diagnosis (e.g. “she has six months”) and many people have told me what a blessing it was for them. I urge everyone to look into this wonderful program!

submitted by Liz Pago
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