Dementia patients may need to be more careful in protecting themselves against COVID-19 as a recent study showed that they are at a higher risk of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In a study published in the journal "Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association," Case Western University researchers analysed data of almost 62 million Americans. The period analysed was between February and August 2020. There were 15,770 patients who had COVID-19 and out of this number, 810 had dementia.

The researchers adjusted the results of their findings based on several factors like age, sex, and race. Their findings showed that those with dementia were twice as likely to contract COVID-19 as compared to those who do not have it. The risk for hospitalisation was also higher for the group with dementia. The mortality risk for patients with dementia was at 20 percent, higher than the general five percent in the study.

During the study period, 23 percent of Black patients suffering from dementia died, while for White patients, 19 percent died of COVID-19.

"Comparing the odds of COVID 19 in patients with dementia before and after adjusting COVID-19 risk factors, it is clear that these factors, many of which are also risk factors for dementia (e.g., cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity, asthma, chronic kidney disease) indeed contributed to the high risk for COVID 19 in patients with dementia," the researchers wrote in the study. Some dementia risk factors enumerated by Stanford Health Care include age, genetics/family history, smoking, alcohol use, atherosclerosis, cholesterol, diabetes, and mild cognitive impairment.

The researchers laid down reasons as to why dementia patients had a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. The first one that they stated was residual and confounding factors like socioeconomic status, lifestyle, and behavioral factors. The researchers explained that patients who have dementia may have impaired memory, which inhibits their ability to remember health protocols like mask-wearing, social distancing, or hand-washing.

Dementia and COVID-19
The lack of contact during lockdown has been hard to bear for nursing home residents, many battling dementia, and psychologists have warned that the trauma of perceived abandonment can be fatal for some. Photo: AFP / DENIS CHARLET

The researchers admitted though that there is a need for more research in order to understand why dementia patients are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, and why they usually experience serious outcomes. They highlight that their study may serve as a baseline study on the initial risk for COVID-19 in patients who have dementia across the U.S.