What We Learned about Dementia During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted older adults who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other cases of dementia. Studies have shown that aside from old age, people with dementia are at higher risk of having severe side effects from COVID-19. Moreover, the public health guidelines (lockdowns, face masks, social distancing, etc.) have caused adverse effects to older people with dementia, their caregivers and their families.

What have we found about dementia, old age and COVID-19?

People with dementia are more vulnerable to getting infected and spreading COVID-19 because they have trouble comprehending the safety protocols. Those who live in long-term care or assisted living communities physically cannot properly distance as they need help with everyday hygiene routines and live in close quarters.

According to an Alzheimer’s Association study, people with dementia who are infected by COVID-19 suffer from increased delirium and impaired consciousness due to direct viral invasion of brain tissues. And older adults with severe forms of dementia are prone to even more neurological complications, including intracranial inflammation or viral-neuro invasion.

What are the biggest challenges for those with dementia and COVID-19?

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges during the pandemic has been isolation. “The hardest thing for our residents is the inability to understand why they can’t see their families,” said Mary Koenig, Administrator at The Heritage Memory Life Community, one of Loretto’s dedicated Memory Care Communities.

Residents at long term care facilities question why people are not coming anymore and why there are no longer group activities or entertainment events. The holidays were an especially hard time for residents at long term memory care communities as many traditions had to be postponed. However, things are looking up for these residents thanks to the vaccine.

Koenig emphasized that the vaccine is the way back to a sense of normalcy for them. More than 70 residents at Loretto’s dedicated memory care community received their vaccinations, and over half of the staff members got their vaccines as well. The vaccine is critical for people who suffer from dementia because video calls and live chats are not always available to every family.

Loretto encourages family members to apply for their vaccinations as soon as they are eligible, as we make the transition back to normal visitation.

What should we do moving forward?

Now that the New York State Department of Health has lifted some social distancing restrictions, residents at long term care facilities can look forward to seeing family members and enjoying more group entertainment events. As vaccines become more available, the hope is that those with dementia and other cognitive complications will be able to see family members regularly and enjoy group gatherings under proper safety guidelines. Some residents have not been able to see loved ones for quite some time, and the vaccine provides the opportunity for a long-awaited reunion.

For more information about the vaccine for those with dementia, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website here.

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