Is the coronavirus risk to dementia patients higher than that of the general population? At this point, it would be difficult to say with certainty. However, several concerns specific to patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s could affect the severity of the disease among these individuals.
Coronavirus Risk in Assisted Living Facilities
Wherever coronavirus (COVID-19) has broken out, the mortality rate among seniors has been especially high. In Italy, more than 100 people who have died from the disease were “elderly, sick with complications, or both.” And more than a third of deaths in the U.S. so far have been in a Seattle-area nursing home.1
The vast majority of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients are elderly. Also, many must rely on nursing homes and assisted living facilities to help with activities of daily living (ADLs). However, the combination of close-quarters living and a high percentage of a vulnerable population make nursing homes and assisted living facilities — and therefore, individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s — particularly susceptible.
Current guidance for preventing the spread of coronavirus is relatively simple:
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth2
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash2
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe2
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing2
Unfortunately, those with dementia or Alzheimer’s may not always remember to take these steps. Even people with normal cognitive function may struggle to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.
How Caregivers Can Mitigate the Risk
Caregivers have an important role to play to reduce the risk of coronavirus (and other diseases) to people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Check up with individuals with dementia about washing hands. Suggest that they wear a face mask as a reminder not to touch their eyes, noses, and mouths.
Awareness is key. The needs and symptoms of individuals with dementia may increase the already high risk of coronavirus. Greater diligence to help this population with simple prevention measures must be taken.