Apr. 1—Those with Alzheimer's and dementia have suffered significantly because of the scourge of COVID-19, not only from a high number of deaths but an added layer of isolation.
There were at least 42,000 more deaths from Alzheimer's and other dementias in 2020 compared with the average for the previous five years, a 16% increase, according to the Alzheimer's Association's 2021 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures report, released earlier this month.
In Georgia, there were 1,596 more deaths from Alzheimer's and dementia in 2020 than the average for the past five years, a 40% increase.
Nearly 50% of residents in nursing homes have Alzheimer's, and more than 40% of those in residential care facilities have Alzheimer's, according to MaryLea Boatwright Quinn, director of government affairs for the Alzheimer's Association. And those percentages don't include dementia and other memory conditions, so the true figures of those with cognitive issues in those facilities is almost certainly much higher.
Healthcare facilities, which house numerous individuals with Alzheimer's, were slammed by the pandemic, said Chris Stearns, who is actively involved with the Alzheimer's Association in Northwest Georgia, as well as the Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, and is a Georgia Ambassador, promoting legislation at the local and national level to benefit those with Alzheimer's and others impacted by the disease. "We have to protect (these people)."
Individuals living with Alzheimer's, particularly those in long-term care settings, "are extremely vulnerable," according to Linda Davidson, executive director of the Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. "In addition, many caregivers have been unable to visit loved ones in these settings, resulting in social isolation for the care recipient and causing enormous stress for these families."
While healthcare facilities have been first in line for vaccines, which may decrease the death toll, the emotional and psychological effects of isolation due to limited visitation during the pandemic remain concerning, Stearns said.
"These people are even more isolated, now, because the pandemic has made it even more difficult for them to have any social interaction."
That's why Stearns supports a bill that's passed the state House of Representatives that would bypass visitation restrictions and allow patients to have a family member visit them even during public health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The measure would allow a patient to have at least one "designated legal representative" who can visit him or her for at least one hour each day to help make decisions about their care.
The isolation that's occurred during the pandemic for many of those with Alzheimer's "is two way," said Stearns, who was a caregiver for both his grandmother, Wilma, and his father, Donald, as they battled Alzheimer's. "There's the isolation of the loved one, and the isolation of those who love and care for them."
More information on Alzheimer's and the Alzheimer's Association can be found at alz.org.