Coronavirus UK death statistics are harrowing but helpful. By drilling down into the details, a more complete picture of COVID-19 is emerging and knowledge helps to direct policy towards neutralising it. There is still much more work to be done in understanding risk association but statistics are plugging some of the gaps.
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According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), between March 1 and April 30, 32,143 deaths were attributed to COVID-19.
To put the number of deaths due to COVID-19 into context, Dementia and Alzheimer disease was the most common main pre-existing condition found among deaths involving COVID-19 and was involved in 6,887 deaths.
Compared with the five-year average, the rate of deaths due to Dementia and Alzheimer disease was significantly higher in April 2020.
Health officials exploring the link between Alzheimer’s and COVID-19 have now identified a biological component.
Scientists at the University of Exeter have found a link between a key Alzheimer’s risk gene and severe symptoms of COVID-19.
Commenting on the finding, Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “A previous study from this group of researchers found that dementia was the diagnosis associated with the greatest risk of severe COVID-19 in a group of participants over the age of 65.
“One explanation for people with dementia being more vulnerable to COVID-19 could be high rates of infection in care homes, but this research highlights a potential biological link.
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Dr Routledge continued: “The study found that people with a key genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease appear to be more likely to test positive for COVID-19, even if they don’t have dementia.
“We don’t yet know how this Alzheimer’s risk gene might make people more susceptible to the virus. Despite the large study group, only 37 people with the risk gene tested positive for COVID-19, and we must be careful about the conclusions we draw from such small numbers.
“These findings will need to be followed up with further research to see if this link could present avenues for new treatments.”
She added: “This study analysed data from participants with European ancestry so the findings may not be relevant to other groups and it is important for other studies to look into COVID-19 risk for people with a different genetic background.
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“The COVID-19 outbreak is having a particularly strong impact on many people with dementia and their families. It is essential that people with dementia have the support they need to minimise their risk of being exposed to the virus.”
How to reduce someone with dementia’s risk of catching COVID-19
If you are caring for someone with dementia, you will probably feel worried about the risk posed by COVID-19, but there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk.
According to Alzheimer’s Society, maintaining good hygiene standards is paramount.
- Washing hands often with soap and water (or, if this isn’t possible, a hand sanitiser)
- Coughing or sneezing into a tissue (if you don’t have a tissue use your elbow – but not your hands)
- Putting used tissues in the bin quickly
- Not touching your face.
Handwashing is particularly important.
“The guidance suggests doing it when you get back home after being outside, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, and before you eat or handle food. If you’re working, wash your hands when you get to work,” advises the Alzheimer’s Society.
As the health body reports, coronavirus can survive on surfaces for several hours so it’s a good idea to regularly clean items that are touched often – remote controls, telephones, kitchen taps and door handles.
“If the person with dementia has memory problems or is confused, they may struggle with remembering about hygiene,” notes the health site.
If this is the case, try implementing these procedures:
- Print out reminder posters and put them up near hand basins – these come in different languages too.
- Use digital devices to set reminders such as: ‘It’s time to wash our hands’.
- Wash hands with the person to encourage them – maybe sing a song together.
- Break the task down into simple steps – if this makes it easier to follow.
- Focus on the details and senses and talk to the person while handwashing: ‘Does this remind you of being back at school or work?’; ‘Does the smell of the soap bring back memories?’
- Taking note of what’s going on immediately around us – ‘living in the moment’ like this can really help with anxiety too.
- Avoid criticism of any errors – offer encouragement and praise instead.
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