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.

Prevention Measures

Current guidance for preventing the spread of coronavirus is relatively simple:

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • 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.

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References:
1. Kennedy, Kelli and Adriana Gomez Licon. “Nursing Homes Face Unique Challenge With Coronavirus.”US News & World Report. 8 March 2020.
2. “Coronavirus Prevention and Treatment.” US Centers for Disease Control. CDC.gov. 8 March 2020.

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About the author

Robert Cuyler, PhD


Robert Cuyler is a clinical psychologist with decades of clinical, management and consulting experience. He is a Clinical Advisor at BrainCheck and the chief clinical officer of Palo Alto Health Sciences. He previously served as the CEO of JSA Health Telepsychiatry and clinical advisor to MDLive/Breakthrough Behavioral. Dr. Cuyler received his Ph.D. in psychology from Louisiana State University and his postdoctoral fellowship from the Menninger Foundation.

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