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Recent data suggests that older adults are the most vulnerable to the worst effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
Older people and people with severe chronic conditions—such as dementia—should take special precautions because they are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 illness, according to the CDC.
Worse, it is not just how many years one has lived that determines risk.
“It is not chronological age alone that determines how one does in the face of a life-threatening infection such as COVID-19,” George Kuchel, a geriatrician and gerontologist at the University of Connecticut, told STAT. “Having multiple chronic diseases and frailty is in many ways as or more important than chronological age. An 80-year-old who is otherwise healthy and not frail might be more resilient in fighting off infection than a 60-year-old with many chronic conditions.”
Many health officials believe at least 15,000 more Americans have died in recent months from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia related to COVID-19 pandemic.
Update 7/22/20: According to new CDC data, roughly 100,000 people died from Alzheimer’s and dementia from February through May 2020. Although not all the extra deaths were directly caused by the coronavirus, that fatality rate is 18% higher than average for those disorders in recent years.
Dementia and Social Distancing
One of the worst consequences of this outbreak for elderly individuals is forced isolation.
Many people experienced both short- and long-term adverse effects from being quarantined, a review of research in The Lancet on the psychological impact of the practice found.
“Overall, this review suggests that the psychological impact of quarantine is wide-ranging, substantial, and can be long-lasting,” the researchers write. “This is not to suggest that quarantine should not be used; the psychological effects of not using quarantine and allowing the disease to spread might be worse.
“However, depriving people of their liberty for the wider public good is often contentious and needs to be handled carefully.”
For those who have Alzheimer’s or dementia, social connection means everything and social in this time of social distancing; it’s a difficult concept for them to understand.
Social isolation and loneliness in the elderly to a higher risk of a variety of physical and mental conditions, as well as cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, even earlier death.
Many reports suggest that social distancing is hardest hit have been older people who face a double threat and fear of contracting the illness and contending with the consequences of isolation and loneliness.
As increasingly stringent social restrictions are put into place, mental health experts are warning that losing these crucial connections can come at a high psychological cost, mainly for people with dementia.
About a third of Americans over 65 were not confident about using digital technology, according to a recent Pew Research review. Nearly half said they needed help in setting up new devices, and many seniors said that they lack a broadband connection.
Latinos with Dementia
There are nearly 6 million Americans with dementia, according to a recent American Alzheimer’s Association report.
Studies show U.S. Latinos are 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their White peers.
The CDC projects that Latinos will experience the most significant increase in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Aging poses the most considerable risk for developing the disease; Latinos are one of the youngest populations in the U.S., meaning this problem will exacerbate as they age.
Lifestyle and socioeconomic choices are also among the factors that affect disease prevalence in Latinos.
Genetic analyses of Alzheimer’s disease have focused on identifying common variants through genome-wide association studies. These reports have identified several novel susceptibility genes that implement specific pathways in the condition. The prevalence of viral, infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis are high in the Latino community when compared to their peers; studies have also shown that childhood viruses might also play a role in Alzheimer’s.
According to CDC data, Alzheimer’s and related dementia is expected to double within the next 50 years, and Latinos could see the most significant rise in these illnesses. This has far-reaching implications for the future health of America’s largest minority group.
A 2013 study conducted by the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) found Latinos have several misconceptions when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease. Healthcare providers reported that Latino older adults knew little about Alzheimer’s disease. According to the study, “older adults stated that some people get Alzheimer’s disease because they think too much, are stressed, or have personality issues. These misconceptions and lack of information in culturally appropriate content create more problems.
Financial Burden of Dementia and Coronavirus
Many Latino caregivers have made significant changes in their employment, from taking a leave of absence, to changing jobs, cutting back hours, or stopping work entirely. Ultimately, many caregivers are making themselves more vulnerable to financial, health, and emotional distress.
Alzheimer’s is already our nation’s costliest disease, paid mostly by Medicare and Medicaid.
Many reports findings signal suggest that the tab could skyrocket in the future as the Latino older adult population grows from approximately four million today to more than 20 million in 2060.
Latinos living with Alzheimer’s is projected to grow from 430,000 in 2014 to 3.2 million in 2060. That is more than an alarming seven-fold increase.
In the current coronavirus outbreak, Latinos face more health and social inequities, which adds to the financial problems.
The pandemic is raising fears of racial/ethnic and income disparities also in testing and prevention.
How can you help?
A person with dementia, at this risky time, should not be exposed unnecessarily to gatherings, public transportation, or unnecessary visitors who may be infected even if they are not showing symptoms and must follow all recommended guidelines.
The Alzheimer’s Association continues to offer its free 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.
The service is staffed round the clock by trained and knowledgeable staff. They have free online resources and tools for caregivers at alz.org, including a dedicated web page for caregiving during COVID-19 alz.org/covid19.
The Dementia Capable Coalition, under the leadership of The Alzheimer’s Association, also offers free virtual education programs that can help those living with Alzheimer’s and their families understand what to expect so they can be prepared to meet the changes ahead and live well for as long as possible.
Learn more about the coronavirus outbreak, and it’s implications concerning health.
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