COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A new study shows just how heavily COVID-19 is impacting people living with types of dementia in Colorado and around the country.
Researchers analyzed data collected from electronic health records of 61.9 million adults in the U.S.
They found people with dementia were twice as likely to contract COVID-19 compared to the general population, even after adjusting for risk factors including old age, assisted living centers and other pre-existing health conditions.
"That’s been a pretty dramatic finding for us," Colorado Alzheimer's Association spokesperson Jim Herlihy said.
Coloradans living with forms of dementia are already facing tough hurdles amid the pandemic, according to recent CDC data.
"During the pandemic, they found that nationwide the death rate for people with Alzheimer's was almost 17% above expectation and in Colorado, it was almost 21%," Herlihy said.
Researchers also found Black Americans living with dementia were nearly three times as likely to be infected by the virus.
"In a way, it reinforces some of the other things we know about Alzheimer's in that Black Americans are twice as likely as whites to develop Alzheimer's and it's because of the very same reasons that this study points out."
Part of the problem, Herlihy said is the lack of diverse data.
"Getting a more diverse base of people involved in research would help really understand what the underlying causes are."
However, the study also points to an overall increased vulnerability for people with forms of dementia.
"Wearing a mask isn't natural to them. Washing their hands, maintaining social distancing are not natural for them. So, they may be more vulnerable just because of that."
Another reason indicated in the study, attributes biological factors associated with dementia.
"When people have dementia, their blood-brain barrier has been violated. The virus has gone through that and once that has happened, it can make them more vulnerable to something like COVID."
According to Herlihy, this creates a difficult situation, trying to balance protecting those most vulnerable with increased isolation risks.
"It is a puzzle because how do you return their lifestyle to what we would consider normal with loved ones and yet protect them them from their grandchildren who may be bringing something home from preschool, or grade school. So, it is a tough challenge. "