Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC has closely tracked trends for various diseases associated with the pandemic. In a typical year, the agency expects approximately 4,500 dementia deaths per week. But in recent weeks, the number has been closer to 5,500 – and experts can not be sure what causes the 1,000 excess deaths per week.
Many of these dementia deaths could actually be undiagnosed Covid-19 deaths, especially during the spring when the test was sparse. But public health experts and nursing home administrators say it is less and less likely as time goes on because there are more tests and accurate diagnoses. It is spurred on a search for alternative theories.
“It is difficult to explain what is happening. Is it because these people are further isolated and do not have the will to live? I heard that, ”Anderson said. “Is it because they originally had Covid-1
Frontline workers say chronic staff shortages make it significantly harder to keep residents with more advanced stages of dementia protected from the virus and themselves. Many of their colleagues stop fearing that they may bring the virus home to their families, and also because of increased stress and intense numbness. For example, it is difficult to get an Alzheimer’s patient to wear a mask.
“We’ve had a lot more falls because of short staffing. You just do not keep an eye on people, so they get into more dangerous situations,” said a nursing home occupational therapist in California who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“It feels like an impossible struggle,” the worker added. “You can put a mask on someone out in the hall 100 times and it will be taken off 100 times.”
The absence of visiting family members who can provide social support and assistance with practical care in normal times increases the burden.
“We try to be a supporter, social worker, caregiver, friend and household for the resident. It puts a lot of pressure on the caregivers and the operation of the facility to make sure everyone has what they need,” Walters said. “Before the pandemic, we could not even get socks on people, and you could see them walking around barefoot.”
Kevin Jameson, president of the Dementia Society of America, said in an interview that even in a well-managed facility, new safety procedures and changes in daily routines could be extremely stressful for residents with dementia. He is concerned that N95 masks in particular could frighten residents and has called for facilities to find alternatives.
“People are so masked and covered by the care of these people that it becomes really isolating for people with dementia,” Jameson said. “Their way of understanding their world requires them to see and hear more signals to understand what is going on.”
He added that residents with dementia tend to reflect their caregiver’s feelings and potentially worsen their condition if staff are visibly stressed and overworked.
Whatever the reasons, the recent increase shows few signs of decline. At the CDC’s latest projection, there was an extra 1,025 th most common excessive deaths due to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in the third week of August. According to the CDC’s Anderson, this sudden shift in mortality has few parallels in modern times: the opioid epidemic, the record-breaking flu season 2017-18, and the coronavirus itself.