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Death rate among people with dementia down in pandemic

The death rate among people with dementia was down during the COVID-19 pandemic, new data shows.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report found that the slight drop occurred over the first 10 months of 2020 compared with the average rate over the same months during 2015 to 2019 – 58 and 63 deaths per 100,000 population, respectively.

AIHW spokesperson Dr Fleur de Crespigny said lower rates of death were particularly apparent during the winter months, when there is usually a seasonal peak in deaths of people with dementia.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that 257 (30 per cent) of the 858 people who died due to COVID-19 in the first 10 months of 2020 had dementia.

But fewer people with dementia died due to influenza or pneumonia during the same months – 13 people in 2020 compared to an average of 187 people over the period 2015 to 2019.

“These results suggest that the measures in place to control the virus indirectly reduced dementia mortality rates in Australia during the first 10 months of 2020, and contrasts with the experience of other developed countries like the United Kingdom where mortality among people with dementia – even when not due to COVID-19 – rose during the pandemic,” de Crespigny said.

A September 2020 report by researchers at University College London found just over a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths between March and June that year in England and Wales were in people living with dementia. Dementia was also the most common pre-existing condition among people whose deaths involved the virus. 

de Crespigny said that while the early evidence suggests that COVID-19 measures have assisted in reducing deaths due to other respiratory conditions, it was important to note the impacts of social isolation and loneliness on overall wellbeing, particularly among those living in residential aged care.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia on people with dementia is not yet fully understood, she added.

“Although they are more likely to develop severe COVID-19 and die from the virus than people without dementia, they often do not present symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19.”

Almost all the people with dementia who died due to COVID-19 were Victorian residents (95 per cent). The remaining deaths were among NSW residents.

But de Crespigny noted that the data doesn’t paint a complete picture of the impact of COVID-19 on people living with dementia, as an unknown number of people who died with dementia did not have the condition recorded on their death certificates.

“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."

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