Alzheimer’s Awareness Month During COVID-19 with Neurologist Jeremy Spevick

By Bridget Burling

How does social isolation as a result of COVID-19 impact Alzheimer’s patients?

Even before the pandemic, a non-medical connection linked to better cognition is having a good social network. I would speculate that the isolation would cause more withdrawal and worsen cognition because of the lack of social connection. It is not just related to Alzheimer’s, but depression can mimic cognitive impairment when not appropriately diagnosed for many patients. So if a patient has Alzheimer’s and worsens drastically within a short time, it is important to make sure that depression is not a factor. Usually, the cognitive decline is steady over time, so if there is a severe worsening within a four or six-month period, you might want to consider depression as a factor. Even without formal depression, social isolation can contribute to a cognitive decline since individuals are not as interactive.

Are patients with Alzheimer’s more vulnerable to COVID-19?

There is no physiological factor for why they are more susceptible; instead, it is situational factors and their age for most patients. For example, many patients require more care, so they live in Long-Term Care or have a caregiver who is not an immediate family member, which indirectly puts them at a higher risk.

How has the pandemic impacted Alzheimer’s treatment?

Similar to a lot of treatments recently, it is more challenging to have clinic visits. Most treatment has become virtual, either on the phone or through video. Specific treatment is easier to do remotely. We would usually cognitive testing for cognitive impairment, such as a mental status exam, which would be difficult to do remotely.

What would you say to patients/caregivers who are concerned about visiting the hospital?

If possible and depending on the hospital’s visitor restrictions at the time, I would encourage people to visit patients in need of a social connection. Humber has taken all of the necessary safety precautions. People should not be afraid to visit the hospital.

Tips for caregivers/family members of someone with Alzheimer’s: