Deaths from Alzheimer’s and dementia on the rise during pandemic

Local News

Caretakers for those that suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s are dealing with a hard reality. 

Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths are up 13.9% in Iowa and 16.3% in Illinois since the beginning of the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been reporting data on “excess deaths,” or the number of deaths above what is considered average for a certain time.

The number of deaths above average in this disease category far exceeds all categories reported by the CDC. In fact, through the end of September, there have been at least 31,047 more deaths due to Alzheimer’s or another dementia nationwide than would be expected normally.

A recent Alzheimer’s Association analysis of CDC data indicates that during the COVID-19 pandemic there have been 304 more deaths in Iowa and 1,178 more deaths in Illinois from Alzheimer’s and dementia than expected — a 13.9% and 16.3% increase respectively compared to the five-year average.

Individuals living with Alzheimer’s, particularly those living in long-term care (LTC) settings, are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. These individuals are older, live in communal settings, and often have underlying chronic conditions putting them at higher risk for the virus. 

Facilities are limiting visits, and the social isolation can be hard for both the patients and their families. 

Anne-Marie Gephart from Donahue is the main caretaker for her 76-year-old mother Marilyn Deegan. One year ago she was diagnosed with dementia, and now lives in a long-term care facility. 

“After she went into memory care, it was obvious that it was a good thing for her to be in there,” Gephart said. 

She said she has not visited her mother in person since March. 

“We’ve done some window visits, and that’s about as good as it’s going to be for a while,” she said. 

Gephart is worried about the long-term effects of the social isolation. 

“The longer the pandemic goes on, I am not sure she is going to know who we are,” she said.  

Which is a major concern for experts, who say the lack of interaction will have major impacts. 

Megan Pederson is a program specialist with the local Alzheimer’s Association and said they are trying to reunite families. 

“The Alzheimer’s Association is really advocating to make sure that all of our senior living communities have adequate testing, so hopefully visitors can start to come in when it’s safe to do so,” Pedersen said. “We’re really noticing those concerning effects from the isolation.”

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease – the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. There are more than 66,000 people in Iowa and 230,000 people in Illinois living with the disease.

For access to local resources, visit https://www.alz.org/iowa. The Alzheimer’s Association provides virtual support groups and education programs and a 24/7 Helpline – 1-800-272-3900. 

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