Alzheimer’s deaths spike in Va. and Md. during COVID-19 pandemic

The number of deaths from Alzheimer’s and dementia is up by double digits — and advocates are concerned.

“We have noticed a significant increase,” said Carter Harrison, director of state affairs for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Compared with averages over the previous five years, Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths in 2020 jumped by more than 22% in Virginia, nearly 18% in Maryland and 16% nationwide.

“These are not just deaths that occurred because of COVID-19; we don’t have the data to support that completely,” Harrison said. “These are deaths that were not expected from Alzheimer’s disease that increased during that period.”

While people with Alzheimer’s and dementia tend to be older, are likely to live in communal settings and often have underlying chronic conditions that put them at higher risk for the virus, Harrison said more research into the death increase is needed.

“We would want to know why this increase has occurred and what steps we can take to prevent it from continuing to occur now and in future situations that are similar to this COVID-19,” he said. “We are very much concerned about it.”

In the meantime, Harrison recommends that loved ones be actively involved: communicate with the facility or at-home helper and carefully monitor the Alzheimer’s and dementia patient’s health and situation to ensure guidelines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are being followed.

“Vigilance on the part of the caregivers is what I would recommend the most,” he said.

The Alzheimer’s Association issued similar recommendations last month for improving state and federal responses to COVID-19 in long-term care settings. The guidance was largely reflected in policy decisions passed by Virginia’s General Assembly, according to Harrison.

“I would also say similarly in Maryland, although there was not a special session, the governor’s office and the state agencies took similar steps,” Harrison said.

You can find information, support resources and ways to get involved on the Alzheimer’s Association website.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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