Patterns in deaths among people with dementia by whether they died due to COVID-19
- 20,875 Australians (8,246 men and 12,629 women) died with dementia during the first 10 months of 2020. Of these, 257 (1.2%) died due to COVID-19 (117 men and 140 women).
- 54% of people who died due to COVID-19 and with dementia were women, and this was slightly lower than among people with dementia who died from another cause (61% were women).
- Age profiles by sex were similar, regardless of whether people with dementia died due to COVID-19 or from another cause.
- A greater proportion of people with dementia who died due to COVID-19 lived in Victoria and in Major cities, compared to people with dementia who died from another cause, reflecting the location of major outbreaks of COVID-19 in Australia during 2020.
- Among people who died with dementia, those who died due to COVID-19 were 1.4 times more likely to also have respiratory conditions recorded on their death certificate, than those who did not die due to COVID-19.
Background and key definitions
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new type of coronavirus—a large group of viruses known to cause respiratory infections. About 99% of COVID-19 deaths in Australia have been confirmed by laboratory testing (ABSa 2020). The data used in this report include both medical doctor and coroner certified deaths due to COVID-19.
Due to the public health importance of COVID-19, the WHO has directed that the new coronavirus strain be recorded as the underlying cause of death, that is, the main disease or condition causing death, when it is recorded as having caused or contributed to death. In Australia, it is rare for COVID-19 to be coded as an associated cause of death (ABS 2020b).
Data and period of analysis
This report uses ABS provisional mortality data, covering deaths that occurred in the first 10 months of 2020 (between 1 January and 27 October). This includes most deaths that occurred from the beginning of the pandemic in Australia to the end of the second Victorian outbreak in 2020.
This report refers to 2 ‘waves’ of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia—by this we mean a rapid increase in the number of infections, a peak, and then a decline in the number of infections:
- wave 1 (from 4 March to 26 May) occurred mostly in New South Wales, was shorter than wave 2, and resulted in fewer COVID-19 deaths than wave 2
- wave 2 (from 24 June to 27 October) occurred mostly in Victoria, led to extended lockdown measures particularly in Greater Melbourne, and was when most of Australia’s COVID-19 deaths occurred.
People who died due to or with dementia
People with dementia may die due to their dementia or from other conditions or injuries (such as influenza or a fall), so dementia may be recorded as an underlying or an associated cause of death on death certificate. In this report, people with dementia are looked at in two groups based on where dementia was recorded in the death certificate:
- deaths due to dementia refer to deaths where dementia was the underlying cause of death
- deaths with dementia refer to deaths where there was any record of dementia (as the underlying cause or an associated cause of death). About 3 in 5 of these deaths were deaths due to dementia.
Most of the information in this report relates only to deaths that were certified by a medical doctor. At the time of writing, coroner-certified deaths were only available when a person died due to COVID-19 (and these are included in this report). However, roughly 1–2% of deaths where dementia is recorded as an underlying cause of death are usually certified by a coroner. While the analyses in this report are unlikely to be significantly affected by missing coroner certified deaths, the data are considered preliminary and subject to change, and results should be interpreted with caution. In an unknown proportion of cases, dementia may not be recorded at all, either because it is incorrectly missed from the death certificate or because the dementia legitimately did not contribute to death. As a result, the number of people with dementia recorded on their death certificate will not capture every person with dementia who died during the pandemic.
This section presents all deaths where dementia was recorded on a person’s death certificate during the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic (referred to as ‘people with dementia’). It also presents key demographic characteristics and highlights distinct patterns among people and areas affected by COVID-19 outbreaks.