Alzheimer's, dementia deaths increase in Minnesota amid pandemic

Longing for pre-pandemic outings, Mary Margaret and Ken Lehmann continue doing everything in their power to avoid COVID-19 and remain isolated. 

Ken is 83-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease and other underlying health conditions. 

For Mary Margaret, the Alzheimer’s Association points out another layer of concern: the number of deaths attributable to Alzheimer’s and dementia during the pandemic is up more than 12% in Minnesota. This far exceeds all disease categories reported by the CDC. 

"Alzheimer’s itself is challenging enough and then to have this extra layer is really very sobering," said Mary Margaret.

"The truth is we don’t know exactly why," said Sue Spalding, the CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota and North Dakota branch. "There are some theories and we need to do a lot more research to figure that out."

Spalding says theories behind the startling statistic include the months long isolation at nursing homes, senior care centers or private homes. Another possible factor is the separation from loved ones, who often serve as advocates for everything from healthcare to day-to-day happiness. 

The Alzheimer’s Association is now starting more research, including looking at potential long-term effects on COVID-19 survivors. 

"There’s a lot of cognitive issues when people have COVID-19," said Spalding. "We need to understand how this is going to impact the brain long term."

Another recent study also finds the risk of contracting COVID-19 is twice as high for people with dementia and African Americans have nearly three times the risk of being infected.

"Some communities face greater disparities in their healthcare, in their social economic status and then we see that translate into an accumulation of their issues that may contribute to Alzheimer’s," said Sherry Sanchez Tibbetts, the director of diversity and inclusion for the Alzheimer’s Association.

With more studies underway, the Lehmanns plan to remain cautious and hopeful. 

"That’s our number one gift is having hope," said Mary Margaret.