Alzheimer's and COVID

According to the most recent data, nearly 65,000 Iowans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. (Adobe Stock)

(Sioux City) -- A spike in Alzheimer's-related deaths is being viewed as another ripple effect of the pandemic, and the troubling information resonates in states like Iowa.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's chief of mortality statistics said deaths attributed to Alzheimer's and dementia were 20% above normal this summer. Isolation during lockdowns and disruptions to nursing-home care are cited as possible factors.

Greg Woods, program specialist with the Greater Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, said facilities across the state have been creative and flexible in providing interactions for patients. But the virus has upended the lives of those who are least able to cope with change.

"People who have Alzheimer's, especially, usually like routine, they like normalcy," said Woods. "They like, you know, repetition and things that happen regularly, and this really tips that boat quite a bit."

Woods said Iowa's rural backdrop already makes it harder to care for Alzheimer's patients, with resources not as easily accessible. In Iowa, Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death. And the state's number of cases is projected to increase by nearly 15% in the next five years.

As states like Iowa continue to see spikes in novel coronavarirus cases, Woods said it's crucial for caregivers to try and ward off forced isolation as much as possible.

"Getting things together like video calls, or even just regular phone calls, or organizing ways that people can see each other," said Woods, "through the windows or you know, in special little rooms that they've made out of plastic. Whatever it might be."

Families of patients have been calling on states and the federal government to boost testing at nursing homes, especially for staff members who could be bringing the virus into facilities. Advocates for stronger testing say it could pave the way for families to have more interaction with their loved ones.

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