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Study: Deaths among older adults with Alzheimer's surged during early COVID pandemic

A new study in JAMA Neurology found that deaths among older adults living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias surged during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Dr. Alireza Atri is the director of the Banner Sun Health Research Institute.

"It's an interesting study, because they only look at Medicare beneficiaries, and they only look in the early period of the pandemic," he said. "So, they only look from that, you know, March until December through December of 2020."

And researchers compared that with data from the same time period in 2019. Deaths among Medicare enrollees living with Alzheimer’s increased by 26% compared to 12% for those living without the disease. 

"I think there’s still probably some undercounting. This doesn't count individuals who are younger than 65, who aren't Medicare beneficiaries. And we know there are several thousand individuals like that in the U.S," Atri said. 

Not surprising, nursing home residents were hit especially hard by the virus. Resident deaths increased by 33%, compared to 24% among those living without Alzheimer's. The researchers explained that early on in the pandemic, “it became clear that vulnerable and underserved populations were at particular risk of dying from the disease.”

Senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.