COVID-19 has impacted Alzheimer’s patients this past year in NJ
Like many things in this past year of ups and downs, COVID-19 has taken a toll on those with Alzheimer's disease in New Jersey. Due to shutdowns and restrictions, many delayed doctor visits, which in turn, delayed diagnoses.
Ken Zaentz, president and CEO of Alzheimer's New Jersey, said what COVID did was increase the isolation for people with Alzheimer's. Even the limited ability to get out was curtailed for everyone. Now, imagine what that's like for caregivers who experienced that everyday. COVID just compounded the isolation.
He said the pandemic also limited services. Even with things opening, adult medical daycare in New Jersey has still not reopened. Zaentz said these daycares have been shut down in the Garden State since February 2020. Families have experienced limitation and services that they are still experiencing today, he added.
Also, during the height of the pandemic when hygiene was key, people with Alzheimer's disease just did not understand or remember the need to keep washing their hands or practicing sanitization techniques.
So the worries we had, were really compounded for families with Alzheimer's because of the cognitive difficulties that those with the disease experience and how the families compensate for that, said Zaentz.
There are over 600,000 people in New Jersey who are impacted by Alzheimer's disease, said Zaentz. This includes about 180,000 people who actually have the disease and over 400,000 caregivers. This is not an easy disease to manage, he said.
"New Jersey is one of the states in the U.S. that has a very high percentage of people over 65 with Alzheimer's disease. Statistically, about 10% of people over age 65 have the disease, so when you apply that number to the New Jersey over-65 population, you can see how the two sort of go together," said Zaentz.
He added that nationally, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease every 65 seconds. It's also the 6th leading cause of death in New Jersey.
The disease starts with short term memory loss which progresses into long term memory loss. Since it's a neurological disease and since the nerve cells in the brain are dying and the communication between the nerve cells is disrupted by the progression of the disease, eventually persons with Alzheimer's disease can't perform daily living tasks like bathing and dressing, said Zaentz.
What is more disheartening is that there really are no treatments for Alzheimer's disease and there is no cure all. Zaentz said there are some FDA approved pharmaceuticals that can treat symptoms but they don't stop the progression and they don't change the underlying progression of the disease. These pharmaceuticals hold people in a plateau for a longer period of time. But, again, they are not a cure. The last approved pharmaceutical for Alzheimer's disease was over 20 years ago, he said.
Zaentz said now that the pandemic seems to be improving, and restrictions are being lifted all over the place, the hope in 2021 is to getting back to routines as best as possible. Part of that is feeling more comfortable with getting out and feeling more comfortable with having home health care aides back into the house providing respite and having adult medical daycares reopened again. He said once they reopen, it's going to make a big difference for families.