Persons with Dementia Are Twice as Likely to Get COVID-19, Study Shows


Persons diagnosed with dementia have been found to be in greater risk of being infected by the coronavirus, according to a new study led by researchers at Case Western Reserve University.

The study, published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, examined adults’ electronic health records from 360 hospitals in the United States from February through August 2020. Of the 15,770 persons infected with COVID-19 in the dataset, 810 also had dementia. After adjusting for various demographic risk factors, the researches concluded that persons living with dementia are twice as likely to get COVID.

In a New York Times article about the study, experts suggested potential reasons for this cohort’s greater vulnerability. Dr. Kristine Yaffe of the University of California, San Francisco cited decreased mobility and muscle tone among persons with dementia as factors that could make them less resilient to COVID.

Dr. Kenneth Langa of the University of Michigan further noted that “Folks with dementia are more dependent on those around them to do the safety stuff, to remember to wear a mask, to keep people away through social distancing.” (Neither Dr. Yaffe nor Dr. Langa were involved in the Case Western study.)

Dr. Bradford Dickerson, director of the frontotemporal disorders unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and chair elect of AFTD’s Medical Advisory Council (MAC), agreed, telling AFTD that persons living with FTD and other forms of dementia are “substantially more vulnerable than the general population.”

“Based on our own experience caring for people with dementia during the pandemic, I am not at all surprised by the results of this study,” Dickerson said. “It is important that we have this valuable scientific evidence from millions of health care records so [that] we can further advocate for, and hopefully develop systems, to protect people with FTD and other dementias from infectious diseases and other conditions.”

Dr. Murray Grossman, director of the Penn FTD Center and fellow MAC member, told AFTD that persons diagnosed with behavioral variant FTD are at an increased risk of contracting COVID because of their “limited inhibitory control” and may not understand the need to socially distance. Additionally, persons with primary progressive aphasia (PPA) may have difficulty with understanding the risks and precautions associated with the virus due to a decline in language capabilities.

The study also examined the disproportionate impact that the virus has had on people of color. According to the study, Black people with dementia were nearly three times as likely as white people with dementia to become infected with the virus.

The findings also concluded that Black people with COVID-19 and dementia were significantly more likely to be hospitalized than white people who had both diseases. Researchers did not have access to socioeconomic information, which could provide increased understanding of each person’s risk factors.

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