Two thirds of non-COVID-19 deaths are caused by dementia, but more testing is needed

05 June 2020

Alzheimer’s Research UK has said more COVID-19 testing is needed, to see whether the increased number of people dying from dementia is in fact due to the virus.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and “symptoms, signs and ill-defined conditions”, mainly indicating old age, account for two thirds of the total number of non-COVID-19 excess deaths in England and Wales from March 7 to May 1.

The ONS has also revealed that:

  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was the most common main pre-existing condition found among deaths involving COVID-19 and was involved in 6,887 deaths, which was a fifth (20.4%) of all deaths involving COVID-19.
  • Compared with the five-year average, the rate of deaths due to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was significantly higher in April 2020.

Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, says more research needs to be done to understand why there has been such a significant increase in the number of people dying from dementia, while greater testing of COVID-19, particularly in care homes, is essential to ensure the virus isn’t going undiagnosed.

Samantha Benham-Hermetz, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Every day we are seeing alarming new figures and stories that reveal the tragic impact dementia is having on people, both on those with and without COVID-19. We don’t yet understand why people with dementia, without COVID-19 are dying in greater numbers than during normal times. But for the 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia, this is a frightening reality – so more research is needed to find out why and to put in the most effective measures to prevent further deaths.

“We know that social isolation, losing routine and companionship from loved ones can be very difficult for people with dementia. We also need to understand the impact of changing staffing levels and access to appropriate medical care in care homes at this time. It may also be the case that people are delaying seeking medical help, through fear of COVID-19.

“However, government must be doing more to improve COVID-19 testing to make sure the virus is not going undiagnosed, particularly in care homes where we are seeing soaring death rates. Until testing has significantly increased, we will not be able to draw proper conclusions as to why people with dementia are being disproportionately affected.”