Experts argue that more must be done to protect the vulnerable communities in society after a study revealed that people with dementia are at an elevated risk of having COVID-19, particularly Black Americans.
According to a study published Tuesday in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, researchers from Case Western University analyzed electronic health record data from 61.9 million American adults and found the risk of contracting COVID-19 is twice as high for people with dementia as for those without it.
Patients were also more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19 than people without the cognitive disorder, according to the findings.
During the study, the overall hospitalization risk was about 25 percent, but for COVID-19 patients with dementia, it more than doubled-about 59 percent. The overall mortality rate was around 5%, but people with dementia had a higher mortality rate of around 20%.
“Dementia patients are more likely to contract COVID infection and to suffer greatly from it if they do,” said Pamela Davis, Case Western University professor of general medical sciences, who contributed to the study.
The research also highlighted disparities, even after controlling for other risk factors, within this vulnerable population. COVID-19 infection was almost three times more common in black patients with dementia than in white patients.
In the report, 73% of black dementia patients were hospitalized, compared to around 53% of white dementia patients. In the study, 23% of black patients died, compared with 19% of white patients.
In order to fully understand why these disparities exist, more research is needed, said Brittany Baker, coordinator of the undergraduate program and clinical assistant professor at North Carolina Central University. However, she believes that black patients with dementia are more likely to contract COVID-19 from their adult caregivers.
Hesitancy of Vaccines
To put an end to Black concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s necessary to confront past racism and viral rumors.
According to a 2020 research report by the American Association of Retired Persons, black caregivers report providing more hours of care each week, 31.2 hours on average, compared to white caregivers, who provided an average of 21.2 hours.
Black Americans are less likely than white Americans to get vaccinated as well. According to a report by the Kaiser COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, half of the black adults who say they will not take the vaccine are worried they may get COVID-19 from it.
If (patients) are not in an extended hospital, they are at home. Their families are going to be of the same ethnicity, and on the front lines are their family members,’ Baker said. “We need to start from the front line in order to make things fair.”
After centuries of structural racism, Baker said more education and transparency is needed to overcome rational distrust in the medical system, particularly after a CDC study last week found that more than half of nursing home employees refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 when given the vaccine.
“It’s difficult because dementia patients need human contact and need human interaction,” said Davis. “Human interaction, on the other hand, has the power to get them the COVID.”
According to lead author Rong Xu, professor of biomedical informatics at Case Western, the study controlled for other known risk factors for COVID-19 such as age, gender, underlying medical conditions and congregate living situations. She said, when researchers compared old patients with dementia and younger patients with dementia, they found no statistical difference.
Health experts speculate that symptoms of dementia can increase the risk of patients getting COVID-19, not the disease itself.
“Individuals with dementia are unlikely to be at risk,” said Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association. “It’s things like forgetting to put on a mask, forgetting physical distances, and forgetting to wash your face.”