COVID-19’s lasting impact on dementia patients, jump in patient deaths during pandemic

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GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) – A local husband living with dementia is experiencing more severe disease stages since his COVID-19 battle and miraculous recovery.

Caregivers and loved ones have seen the pandemic’s impact on Alzheimer’s Disease or forms of dementia.

Bob and Judy Maxwell have been married for 15 years. Bob is 86 years old and began experiencing the early stages of dementia nearly a decade ago.

He has been living at The Lakes at Litchfield‘s assisted living facility, which avoided COVID-19, until October, then it hit.

“Bob, unfortunately, caught it, and he had a fever of 105, and then it came down to 103, and the man still walked to the stretcher to go to the hospital,” Judy said.

The emotional battle started when Bob was isolated in his hospital room for nearly three weeks away from Judy, his caregivers, and family or friends.

Judy got the doctors’ call and had to discuss the options to put Bob on a ventilator or sign a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR).

She wanted to put him on a ventilator, but after three of COVID-19 hospitalization and unsuccessful antibiotics and steroids, Judy knew that wouldn’t be what Bob wanted.

That’s when doctors resorted to convalescent plasma.

“Doctors gave him the convalescent plasma, and two days later he began to respond, and five days later he went back to the lakes to skilled nursing,” Judy Maxwell said.

Then she was faced with another hard choice, the decision of whether or not to move him out of assisted living and into a memory care or reflections unit.

Bob doesn’t recall a moment of the 20 days he was in the hospital.

After his COVID-19 recovery, his cognition was dwindling, and the short-term memory he had before the was virus was gone too.

“You can tell with all the people that have dementia that it definitely affects their level of cognoscente, and it just isn’t as sharp as it was before. And even though families know this is going to happen, it still hard and still a shock,” Judy said.

The other day Judy asked him the date of one of their best memories shared, their wedding day.

“And he couldn’t remember. I finally said April. Can you remember the day and thought about it and thought about it, and I said April 15, what day? Well, it might be Tax Day, and I said, what did you tell me because I wanted to get married in November,” Judy said. “He said I’ve always wanted something special to happen to me on Tax Day, and you’re it.”

After the convalescent plasma was used to treat and help Bob recover, he still had to learn to walk again, go to occupational therapy, and speech therapy for three weeks.

The Alzheimer’s Association released new statistics this week showing death rates among Alzheimer’s patients were 20% higher in 2020 compared to the previous five years.

Medical experts say they’re seeing COVID-19 have a direct and indirect impact, like Bob’s case, on Alzheimer’s patients, and are attributing to the isolation, disrupted routine, and long-term isolation from family and friends.

“That could be attributed to COVID-19 but also disruptions in care, whether it’s not being able to see your healthcare provider the same way or having the same kind of family or professional support you may have due to concern about transmission,” Beth Sulkowski with the South Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said.

South Carolina families or loved ones with dementia can access virtual services, a 24-hour help-line, and learn how to get involved with caregiver support groups by checking here.

To reach the Helpline, call 1-800-272-3900.

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