An international multi-centre study has found worsened neuropsychiatric symptoms in people living with dementia, and a decline in carer mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research, published in Nature, Scientific Reports, and featured in The Conversation, found that since the outbreak of COVID-19, people with dementia had worse depression, apathy (loss of motivation), delusions (unshakeable beliefs in things that are not true), anxiety, irritability and agitation.
Throughout 2020, the researchers conducted an international survey to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people living with dementia and their carers across Australia, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. They found that people with dementia who weren’t living with their carer (for example, those in aged care facilities) had a higher risk of worse outcomes. This decline may be exacerbated by social isolation from their loved ones, and disconnection from their usual social activities and routines.
The study’s lead author, Grace Wei, is completing her PhD with the Brain and Mind Centre’s Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) Research Clinic. She said: “Environmental changes can have a huge impact on people living with dementia and their carers. These findings point to disturbing trends that COVID-19 and related restrictions leads to a rapid deterioration of dementia symptoms.”
“It also had a profound impact on the mental and emotional well-being of family carers, providing us with evidence that COVID-19 has resulted in a decline in mental health and increased social isolation. For those caring for someone living in an aged care facility, not being able to visit their loved ones has been incredibly stressful and distressing.”
Grace’s PhD research focuses on social cognition and interventions in dementias, in particular frontotemporal dementia, which can affect people from their mid-50s. She and her team have translated their findings into support tools for carers and people living with dementia.
“In response to our findings, we have developed an evidence-based toolkit to support family carers and people living with dementia during these difficult times.”
“People living with dementia and their family carers are particularly vulnerable to adverse outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding the lived experience is key to finding ways to best support and protect their safety, rights and wellbeing”.
Support for carers is also available through Dementia Australia’s National Dementia Helpline. 1800 100 500
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on neuropsychiatric symptoms in dementia and carer mental health: an international multicentre study, doi.10.1038/s41598-022-05687 (Grace Wei, Janine Diehl-Schmid, Jordi A. Matias-Guiu, Yolande Pijnenburg, Ramon Landin-Romero, Hans Bogaardt, Olivier Piguet & Fiona Kumfor) was published in Nature Scientific Reports