A new report from Statistics Canada has found that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease were the most common medical conditions found in patients who died from COVID-19 last year.
The report, published Friday, analyzed the nearly 15,300 COVID-19 deaths that occurred in Canada between March and December of 2020.
Among the findings were that 89 per cent of those deaths had at least one other health condition or complication, known as a “comorbidity,” also reported on their death certificate.
The most common comorbidity was that of neurodegenerative diseases dementia or Alzheimer’s, which were reported in 36 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths in Canada in 2020.
“People living with dementia are at higher risk of developing COVID-19 no matter whether they live at home or in a care setting, for many reasons,” said Ronan Ryan, the CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, in a statement to Global News Friday.
“Unfortunately, this latest report reinforces what we at the Alzheimer Society are hearing every day, that people living with dementia have been impacted immensely by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Ryan attributed the increased vulnerability faced by those with the disease to difficulty in understanding or following public health guidance, as well as less access to family and community supports which may worsen their dementia or other health conditions.
The report also found that the frequency of Alzheimer’s or dementia had varied between women and men. For women, it was reported to be the most common comorbidity — appearing on 41 per cent of death records — while it was the second most common for men and found on 31 per cent.
“These results can be partly explained by the age and sex profile of Canadians who died of COVID-19 in 2020: 63 per cent of women who died of COVID-19 were older than 85, whereas 47 per cent of men who died of COVID-19 were older than 85,” read the report.
Citing the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the statistics agency said that the 1 in 4 Canadians aged 85 or older lived with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
“These results, along with the specific conditions listed on the death certificate, highlight some of the populations in Canada most vulnerable to severe outcomes of COVID-19,” read the report.
“Although individuals had pre-existing conditions, it does not imply that they were at risk of dying if there had been no COVID-19 infection.”
Other common diseases shared in other patients who have succumbed to COVID-19 include hypertensive diseases, which accounted for 15 per cent, and ischemic heart disease, which comprised 14 per cent of all deaths. Chronic lower respiratory diseases were also common in the deceased, accounting for 11 per cent.
The report also mentioned the existence of other comorbidities such as pneumonia and respiratory failure, but specified that such diseases could have been a result of contracting COVID-19 rather than being the underlying reason for a severe outcome.
A new study from researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto suggests that Alzheimer’s could be an autoimmune disorder, potentially explaining patients’ susceptibility to COVID-19. By 2030, about one million Canadians are estimated to be diagnosed with dementia.
Ryan, whose organization has also formed a “COVID-19 and Dementia Task Force,” said that his organization was continuing to press for increased funding for the national dementia strategy to achieve better outcomes for people living with the disease.
— With files from Global News’ Leslie Young