Elderly woman looking out a windowDuring the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, older Americans with dementia faced a dramatically higher risk of infection and death than older Americans without dementia, not only in nursing homes, but also in assisted living facilities and the wider community, recent studies show.

People living with dementia are vulnerable to COVID-19 infection because they tend to have underlying health conditions and rely on caregivers, and they may be less able to follow risk reduction measures such as masking, said Johanna Thunell of the University of Southern California.

“Persons living with dementia are at higher risk of hypertension, diabetes, stroke, COPD, and chronic kidney disease, conditions that we know increase their risk of being hospitalized or dying of COVID-19.

“Many of those living in a community setting rely on family and friends for help with everything from paying bills to bathing and eating. This reliance on care partners likely precluded many from isolating within their household or family unit, increasing their exposure to COVID-19.”

Thunell is among several researchers supported by the National Institute on Aging who are examining the experiences of people living with dementia during the first years of the pandemic to improve care in future health emergencies.

Paola Scommegna, Mark Mather (February 2024). No Matter Where They Lived, Older Americans With Dementia Were More Likely to Die From COVID-19, Population Reference Bureau.

Johanna A. Thunell et al. (2023). COVID-19 Hospitalization and Mortality in Community-Dwelling Racially and Ethnically Diverse Persons Living With Dementia. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 71(5): 1429-39.