Conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia may put patients at an even greater risk of death from Covid-19 than heart disease and other ailments thought to be the most dangerous, according to a new study published Tuesday.
Patients with dementia and degenerative neurological diseases were more likely to die from Covid than those suffering from several other pre-existing conditions, according to a study in Biology Methods and Protocols that followed 300,000 Veterans Affairs patients with coronavirus infections.
Those with Alzheimer’s disease were 5.2 times more likely than others without the condition to die from Covid, and those with unspecified dementia were 5.1 times more likely to die from coronavirus infections, while patients with hypertension who were 4.83 times more likely to die.
Severe disabilities also proved to be dangerous: Those with physiological development issues were 4.2 times more likely than others without the condition to die from Covid, according to the study.
The researchers said conventional methods for predicting Covid mortality risk may underestimate the risks caused by these illnesses, as physicians don’t typically associate neurological diseases and disabilities with the kinds of respiratory issues and weakened immune systems that can leave people more vulnerable to severe coronavirus infections.
Tuesday’s study sought to evaluate a new method for predicting mortality from coronavirus infections by calculating the specific risk of each pre-existing condition, and researchers found the new model was better than several previous approaches at predicting death.
Diseases like chronic lung conditions, cancer and heart conditions have long been known to increase patients’ risk of dying from a coronavirus infection by causing organ dysfunction, weakening the immune system and making the patient more vulnerable to infections. Neurological conditions can also put people at high risk for severe coronavirus infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and previous research has also shown ailments like dementia can raise the risk of getting Covid, including breakthrough infections in vaccinated patients. This may be in part because memory problems associated with the condition make it challenging for patients to follow safety measures such as wearing masks and washing hands, while damaged blood vessels caused by vascular dementia may also allow bacteria and viruses to travel more easily from a person’s blood into the brain. In the past, scientists have focused on evaluating a patient’s risk of death from the coronavirus by grouping pre-existing conditions together under broad categories, and have at times excluded some of the highest risk conditions, including neurological diseases, thus failing to predict the real impact of each specific illness, researchers concluded Tuesday.
Covid infections may also leave older people more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s, other research suggests. A recent study of more than six million people 65 years and older found those who had Covid faced a higher risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s within a year, potentially because the coronavirus causes inflammation that can worsen ongoing changes in the brain.
By Madeline Halpert, Forbes Staff