Dementia deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia
The article was originally posted on LinkedIn by Fleur de Crespigny, Dementia Unit Head, AIHW.
Well done to my team in the Dementia Unit for publishing today’s report on dementia deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. We’ve used provisional mortality data collected by the ABS to explore the impact of the pandemic on patterns of deaths among people who had dementia recorded on their death certificates between January and October 2020. Our report shows that after adjusting for changes in the size and age structure of Australia’s population over time, the rate of deaths of Australians with dementia during the first 10 months of 2020 was lower than the 2015-19 average. This is probably because measures introduced to limit the spread of COVID-19 also limited the transmission of other infectious respiratory diseases, such as influenza or pneumonia, which people with dementia are particularly vulnerable to.
Today’s report is an important first step in building a comprehensive picture of the impact of COVID-19 on people living with dementia in Australia. Around one third of the 858 people who died of COVID-19 in the first 10 months of 2020 had dementia recorded on their death certificates. These people tended to be older and were less likely to develop severe respiratory conditions as a result of COVID-19 than people who died due to COVID-19 but without dementia.
While this report reveals a positive outcome with respect to dementia death rates, it is important to bear in mind that mortality statistics are just one way to measure the impact of the pandemic on people with dementia. It remains less well understood what the consequences of social distancing and lockdown measures have been on the provision and uptake of health and welfare services for people with dementia. Furthermore, the impact of enforced isolation to combat the virus, including lockdowns in aged care homes, appear to have resulted in worsening cognition and mental health among people living with dementia.
The number of Australians with dementia is projected to more than double between 2020 and 2050. Without a significant breakthrough in prevention or treatment, dementia will have an increasingly major impact on Australia’s health and aged care systems. With the pandemic still ongoing, people with dementia remain a particularly vulnerable group and it will be important to monitor broader impacts on their health and welfare as other data sources become available over time.
Our next report scheduled for September, Dementia in Australia, will provide the latest information available on dementia, risk factors, health and aged care services, carers and Government expenditure on dementia, as well as an update on COVID-19 related mortality statistics.