Since the beginning of the pandemic, 70% of dementia caregivers have observed a decline in their loved one’s memory or a change in their behaviors, according to a study by UsAgainstAlzheimers (UsA2). While coronavirus restrictions like social distancing, mask wearing, and shuttering of senior centers protected countless older adults, seniors with dementia and their caregivers spent much of 2020 and 2021 reeling from the negative side effects of lack of support and dementia coupled with COVID-19 isolation.
Luckily, the advent of safe, effective coronavirus vaccines has led to increased social opportunities, more available health care, and a more balanced lifestyle for family caregivers now that outside help is readily available. The effects of isolation are beginning to wane, and dementia death statistics are stabilizing from an all-time high during the early pandemic.
While the nature of the pandemic remains uncertain, it’s clear that we can learn from the worst of it as we move forward: COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of socialization and stimulation for dementia patients, as well as self-care for their caregivers.
Learn what’s causing this rapid decline, why more people are dying of dementia, and how supporting a relative with memory loss can affect family caregivers. Plus, learn coping tips and discover resources to help you and your loved one through the pandemic.
In this article:
Numerous social, emotional, and physical changes have contributed to increased cognitive impairment in seniors with dementia during the pandemic. Here are eight top reasons why dementia symptoms worsened during the pandemic.
In fact, up to 60% of seniors with dementia experienced further decline due to lack of stimulation during the pandemic, according to an article review published in The Lancet.
Without regular activities, outings, and social connections throughout the pandemic, dementia patients were more likely to spend time passively watching TV or napping than pursuing interactive, brain-stimulating activities.
Isolation also exacerbates chronic conditions, increases anxiety and senior depression, and may lead to early mortality. Sixty-two percent of adult children caring for their parents or elderly relatives say their loved one has suffered physically or mentally from the health risks of isolation during the pandemic, according to a December 2020 survey from A Place for Mom.
The coronavirus pandemic and its accompanying hardships caused deaths in seniors with dementia to skyrocket. As the pandemic wanes, death trends are beginning to reverse.
Between February 2020 and the end of 2021, there have been over 75,270 “excess” deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This statistic exclusively reflects deaths caused by Alzheimer’s and other dementias — not those attributed to COVID-19 or other underlying conditions. Many side effects of pandemic restrictions, like loneliness and changes in care plans, have contributed to this spike in pandemic dementia deaths.
In a ranking of the top 13 non-injury-related causes of death in the U.S., deaths from Alzheimer’s disease were the most elevated of any mortality group since February 2020.
The number of seniors with dementia who have died during the coronavirus pandemic is greater than the number of seniors who have died of dementia during this period.
Some deaths are directly attributed to COVID-19 infections, while others are from comorbidities, like heart disease, diabetes, or obesity. More can be linked to disrupted care access: With hospitals across the country at capacity, ER visits for minor concerns were often discouraged. This may have led to pneumonia that wasn’t caught in time, a wound that became infected, or a sprained ankle that led to a life-threatening fall.
Now that the pandemic is waning, mortality rates are beginning to stabilize. It’s vital for caregivers to ensure their senior loved ones receive preventive health care to treat potential underlying conditions.
Dementia caregivers have struggled throughout the pandemic, too. Seventy-seven percent of family caregivers said their stress level was elevated when coronavirus restrictions were put in place, according to the UsA2 survey. This sharp increase was often attributed to limited resources, fear, and uncertainty.
In 2022, that number has dropped drastically to only 22%, but caregiver stress is still higher than it was pre-pandemic, according to the survey.
Even in the best of times, dementia caregiving can lead to significant health risks. During the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been more important than ever to focus on your physical and mental well-being.
With stay-at-home orders and mask mandates lifted, it’s still important to prioritize health in the “new normal.” But for caregivers, the enormous decrease in cases and hospitalizations is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Caring for a loved one with dementia can be incredibly challenging. If you’re experiencing difficulty coping, consider these five expert tips from LeighAnne French, a professional home care aide based in Kansas City, Missouri.
Household dynamics have changed dramatically since the onset of the pandemic. While most schools are back to in-person learning, many still have hybrid schedules, and some activities or sports may be canceled. Sandwich generation caregivers are still struggling to balance their children’s schedules with caring for their aging parents with dementia.
Caregivers of adults were nearly twice as likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic than non-caregivers, according to a community impact survey conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. This is primarily due to missed work from full-time caregiving.
The right memory care community can help keep your loved one safe while offering stability for you and your family.
Memory care alleviates stress for family caregivers: Overall, family members have been 20% less stressed about the health and safety of loved ones in senior living, according to Us2A. Older adults with dementia in senior living have benefited from the continued stimulation of socially distanced activities, nutrition-focused dining programs, and access to on-site health care.
As of January 2022, almost all communities are allowing new residents to move in during COVID-19. Heightened safety measures and precautions are in place, but, over time, communities have learned to adapt their services to account for both coronavirus prevention and the need for seniors to be social and stimulated. Stay up to date on how A Place for Mom’s network of over 17,000 communities are responding to ever-changing COVID safety guidelines.
If you think memory care may be right for your loved one, reach out to one of our free, local Senior Living Advisors. They can help you navigate options and have the knowledge your family needs about communities’ pandemic responses.
If you and your loved one aren’t ready for memory care, explore these online resources for help and support:
Biggar, V. (2020, December 2). COVID-19 and dementia: What people have learned about themselves. UsAgainstAlzheimers.
Campitelli, M.A., Bronskill, S.E., & Maclagan, L. C. Comparison of medication prescribing before and after the COVID-19 pandemic among nursing home residents in Ontario, Canada. Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, 4(8).
Del Río-Lozano, M., García-Calvente, M., Elizalde-Sagardia, B., & Maroto-Navarro, G. (2022, January 31). Caregiving and caregiver health 1 year into the COVID-19 pandemic: A gender analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(3).
Dementia Friendly America. Resources.
Justice, N. (2018, February 8). The relationship between stress and Alzheimer’s disease. Neurobiology of Stress, 8, 127-133.
French, L. (2022, April 19). Personal communication. [Personal Interview].
Massachusetts Department of Public Health. (2022, January 12). COVID-19 community impact survey.
Rush University Medical Center. Loneliness associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. ScienceDaily.
Schroeter M. L., Kynast, J., Villringer, A., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2021, August 13). Face masks protect from infection but may impair social cognition in older adults and people with dementia. Frontiers in Psychology, 12.
UsAgainstAlzheimers. Survey #7 on COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s community summary of findings October 2020.
Woolf, S. H., Chapman, D. A., Sabo, R. T., & Zimmerman, E. B. (2021, April 2). Excess deaths from COVID-19 and other causes in the US, March 1, 2020, to January 2, 2021. Journal of the American Medical Association, 325(17), 1786–1789.
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