COVID-19 has had a big impact on people with dementia, as lockdowns, social distancing and masks brought about extra confusion, stress, and social isolation for many living with the disorder.
This year, dementia organisations are wanting to encourage knowledge and understanding around dementia, stamp out unintentional dementia discrimination, and raise awareness about the impact COVID-19 will have on future dementia numbers.
Global experts concerned COVID-19 could be a ‘Trojan horse’ of dementia
On the first day of World Alzheimer’s Month, Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) has raised concerns that COVID-19 could be a ‘Trojan horse’ that may cause future waves of dementia.
ADI is calling on the World Health Organisation (WHO), Governments and research institutes to prioritise research on the link between COVID-19 and dementia.
Current research has shown that COVID-19 can have neurological impacts on the brain, which accelerates dementia symptoms and other brain pathology. It is also believed that people who are experiencing long-COVID may face increased or an accelerated risk of dementia.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ADI, Paola Barbarino, says that world Governments are not prepared for the wave of dementia that will appear due to COVID-19 exposure.
“Many dementia experts around the globe are seriously concerned by the link between dementia and the neurological symptoms of COVID-19,” says Ms Barbarino.
“Even before COVID-19 and this emerging risk, forecasts estimate dementia cases to rise from 55 million to 78 million by 2030, with costs rising to US $2.8 trillion annually.
“We urge the WHO, Governments and research institutions across the globe to prioritise and commit more funding to research and establish resources in this space, to avoid being further overwhelmed by the oncoming pandemic of dementia.”
ADI’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Panel (MSAP) has pulled together scientists and medical professionals to research the issue and figure out how to deal with it.
Other studies have shown that the dementia rates are expected to drop for a period of time due to the high number of COVID-19 deaths of people with dementia. Currently between 25-45 percent of all COVID-19 deaths are people with dementia. However, in the future, this number will likely rise significantly because of the longer-term neurological impacts of COVID-19.
Chair of ADI MSAP and cognitive neurologist, Dr Alireza Atri, says the world needs to be aware of the huge ‘Trojan’ horse COVID-19 is leaving behind.
“We’re particularly concerned about the neurological symptoms of ‘long-COVID-19’ such as loss of taste and smell, as well as cognitive problems like ‘brain fog’, and difficulties with concentration, memory, thinking and language,” says Dr Atri.
While the research in this area is limited, the studies supporting this dementia concern is growing. Researchers in Britain found that people who had COVID-19 had profound cognitive impacts after recovery.
Ms Barbarino says it is important that people understand the warning signs and symptoms of dementia, as well as how to seek out more information and advice after a diagnosis.
“People at risk of developing dementia need to know about the potential impact of long-COVID on their brain health,” says Ms Barbarino.
“We need people to be aware of the possible link between long-COVID and dementia, so they know to self-monitor for symptoms and catch it in its tracks. Measures must be put in place to protect them.
“We need only to look at previous pandemics to see the vital importance of research and preparedness. Dementia is not going away. We need to act now to be prepared for additional pressure following the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A little support makes a big difference this Dementia Action Week
Running from 20 – 26 September, Dementia Action Week’s theme for the year is ‘A little support makes a big difference’.
The national awareness campaign is encouraging discussion around discrimination and dementia, as many Australians don’t understand dementia or how they can improve the lives of people with dementia.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe AM, says that Dementia Action Week shares important information and tips on how to provide meaningful support to people living with dementia and their carers.
“Once a person is diagnosed there is a common perception that they have a complete loss of function and independence when there is a wealth of evidence that shows people living with dementia, with good support, can live active and fulfilling lives for many years,” explains Ms McCabe.
“Our research shows that people living with dementia and carers experience discrimination that can lead to social isolation, loneliness and poor mental health.
“People living with dementia report that social invitations and inclusion start to dwindle. Carers report feeling they no longer have the support of family or friends when the reality is often people close to them withdraw not knowing how to help or not wanting to intrude.”
Ms McCabe says most ‘discriminatory’ behaviours from people is not intentional and arises because they have a lack of knowledge about dementia.
She adds that COVID-19 has only made life worse for people with dementia and their carers, as restrictions and lockdowns had not had a good impact on those with the disease.
Ms McCabe hopes that Dementia Action Week inspires the community to learn more about dementia and how their words, behaviour and responses can make a difference in those people living with dementia.
To receive a digital kit and information about Dementia Action Week 2021, head to the Dementia Australia website.