People with dementia and those who care for them are being pushed to the extreme by the Covid-19 pandemic, the CEO of Alzheimer’s Disease International has warned while participating in a global discussion on mental health hosted by Qatar Foundation and the World Innovation Summit for Health.
A stark picture painted by the novel coronavirus crisis has this month been revealed in a report by the UK’s National Health Service, which showed that 18% of those who have died in hospital with Covid-19, and 42% of those who died in care homes for the elderly after testing positive for the disease, had dementia.
Paola Barbarino, who heads the UK-based organisation dedicated to fighting Alzheimer’s disease, says these statistics reflect exactly how vulnerable those with the dementia are to disease, death – and discrimination.
“The report reveals the depths of vulnerability that those with degenerative neurological conditions such as dementia are prone to,” she said. “It also gives us a glimpse of the many victims who had dementia. And there may be more - victims who had dementia, but were not registered at the hospital they were admitted to as having the diseases.
“Often patients with dementia cannot verbally express physical discomfort, and this applies to the symptoms of the pandemic as well. The result is that by the time help is sought for, and arrives, it is often too late. On the other side of the spectrum, we have heard of reports of extreme end-of-life decisions being made solely on the fact that an elderly patient afflicted by the virus had dementia – even when they had no other underlying health conditions.
“There have also been situations where patients who were previously living alone opted to stay with immediate family members, as their regular caregivers were forced to self-isolate. This puts enormous pressure on their children, who often have to juggle caring for a parent with dementia, working from home, and schooling their own children. The mental agility of such caregivers is often stretched to breaking point.”
Patients with Alzheimer’s benefit from routine, but amid Covid-19, that routine can be snatched from them, leaving them confused and scared. This leads to decreased cognitive capacity, and, in the case of advanced dementia, rapid physical and mental deterioration.