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Behind the headlines: COVID-19 and dementia

There have been many stories in the media over the past few months about COVID-19 and dementia. Almost one million people in the UK are living with dementia, and over half of us know someone affected by the condition. It’s understandable that these headlines may be causing even more fear and worry, during an already frightening time.

So we wanted to take a moment to share with you what we know about COVID-19 and dementia, what this might mean for people affected and what Alzheimer’s Research UK is doing to help.

What exactly do we know about dementia and COVID-19?

Sadly, it has become clear that people with dementia are more at risk of experiencing severe effects of COVID-19.

Official figures now show that a quarter of people who have died with COVID-19 in England and Wales also had dementia.

Research has shown that there is a connection between the two, with a recent study revealing a link between an Alzheimer’s disease risk gene and severe symptoms of COVID-19. But we’re still trying to work out why people with dementia are being so badly affected by the virus.

We expect lockdown measures will be playing a part in this. Social distancing, while vital for containing the spread of the virus, is exacerbating existing challenging dementia symptoms, particularly as social isolation, losing routine and companionship from loved ones can be very difficult for people with dementia.

We’ve also been hearing a lot about the impact on care homes, which have been hard hit by COVID-19. The fact that over two thirds of people in care homes are living with dementia, coupled with the high rates of infection in some of these facilities, will also be a factor in the stark statistics we’re seeing.

And we know that people may be less willing to seek medical help, potentially because of fear of COVID-19. But the message from the NHS has been that it is still open for business and if people have concerns about their health, they should contact their GP.

These factors may also help explain why we’re seeing an increase in the number of people dying from dementia, who don’t have COVID-19. It could also be the case that the virus is going undiagnosed, particularly in care homes, and until testing has improved, we won’t be able to draw firm conclusions.

What is Alzheimer’s Research UK doing to help?

As a dementia charity, we are seeing and hearing the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on those living with the condition. And while funding dementia research remains our focus, we want to support COVID-19 research where we can. So where it’s appropriate, we’re doing what we can to help, including:

Supporting research efforts to solve the threat of COVID-19.

Calling on government to do more to protect people with dementia from COVID-19.

  • We’ve urged government to put measures in place so people can access the medical treatment and services they need for dementia, fund more research to shed light on the links between dementia and COVID-19, and to improve testing for the virus, particularly in care homes.
  • As co-chairs of the Charity Medicines Access Coalition, we’ve been co-ordinating responses across the charity sector to help support the development of COVID-19 guidelines for the NHS, produced by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Our Dementia Research Infoline remains open.

  • We’re still here to offer advice to anyone who has questions about dementia and research into the condition.
  • You can call us on 0300 111 5 111 from 9.00-5.00pm Monday to Friday or email infoline@alzheimersresearchuk.org

Just as research is vital in the fight against COVID-19, we know that research will help us to overcome dementia. Thank you for your continued support – now, more than ever, your backing is crucial.


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About the author

Samantha Benham-Hermetz

Team: Campaigning