Summer wave of dementia deaths adds thousands to pandemic’s deadly toll

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC has carefully tracked trends for various diseases associated with the pandemic. In a typical year, the agency expects approximately 4,500 dementia deaths per week. But in recent weeks, that figure has been closer to 5,500 — and experts can’t be sure what is causing the 1,000 excess deaths per week.

Many of these dementia deaths could in fact be undiagnosed Covid-19 deaths, especially during the spring when testing was sparse. But public health experts and nursing home administrators say that is less and less likely as time goes on because there is more testing and accurate diagnosis. That’s spurred a search for alternative theories.

“It’s hard to explain exactly what’s going on. Is this because these people are further isolated and don’t have the will to live? I’ve heard that,” Anderson said. “Is it because they initially had Covid-19 and the disease was undetected and exacerbated their existing conditions? Or was it because in the midst of the pandemic, they’re not getting adequate care? I’ve heard all three explanations.”

Frontline workers say chronic staffing shortages make it significantly harder to keep residents with more advanced stages of dementia safe from the virus and themselves. Many of their colleagues quit over fears they could bring the virus back home to their families, and also because of increased stress and intense feelings of futility. It’s hard, for instance, to get an Alzheimer’s patient to wear a mask.

“We’ve had a lot more falls because of short staffing. You just don’t have eyes on people so they’re getting themselves into more dangerous situations,” said a nursing home occupational therapist in California, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.

“It feels like an impossible battle,” the worker added. “You could put a mask on someone out in the hall 100 times, and it will be taken off 100 times.”