Wisconsin and many other states are dealing with an increase in deaths from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia during the coronavirus pandemic, according to an Alzheimer’s Association analysis of CDC data from 2020.

MILWAUKEE ⏤ Wisconsin deaths from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Wisconsin is not the only state seeing this trend. In fact, most other states are in the same boat, according to an Alzheimer’s Association analysis of U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data from this year.

The analysis covered the period from January through October of this year. 

Wisconsin has seen a 13.9% increase in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia deaths compared to the five-year average, according to the analysis. That’s 629 more deaths than average.

Nationally, there have been at least 34,851 more deaths (a 16.8% increase) due to Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia nationwide than would statistically be expected.

The analysis didn’t include a breakdown at the county level, according to an Alzheimer’s Association Wisconsin Chapter spokesperson. 

Leadership worried about overall increase

However, the organization’s leadership is worried about the overall increase in deaths among the vulnerable population.

Their fears heightened as many of them are living in communal settings, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“Families with a loved one in a facility have been hit hard by the pandemic, and COVID-19 is altering normal patterns of mortality,” said Michael Bruhn, director of public policy for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Wisconsin Chapter.

“The Alzheimer’s Association is concerned about this alarming trend and is calling on state lawmakers to implement rapid testing and other safety protocols to protect these vulnerable individuals.”

Could be due to several factors

The Alzheimer’s Association contends that the uptick in deaths could be due to one or more of these factors: 

  • A lack of easy and accessible COVID-19 testing, especially early in the pandemic. This caused COVID-19 deaths to be inaccurately recorded as deaths due to other causes (such as Alzheimer’s disease);
  • The vulnerability of these individuals: older seniors, often living in communal settings and often having underlying chronic conditions;
  • And/or indirect causes due to the pandemic, including overburdened health care systems, fear of seeking treatment, or other causes related to economic shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.

Impact of social isolation on residents with Alzheimer’s

The adverse impact of social isolation and limited social engagement for those with dementia has been overwhelming, the association stated. 

Ensuring every longterm care community has access to rapid testing for all residents, staff and visitors is the only way to fix the impact of isolation, its analysis noted.

Wisconsin State Assembly Republican leadership last week unveiled a COVID-19 legislation package that includes funds for more COVID-19 testing. The package also allows for “an essential family member/caregiver” to visit a loved one in nursing homes in specific circumstances. 

Lawmakers have not set a timetable for when they may consider the legislation.

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