Summary

In the first 10 months of 2020:

20,875 Australians died with dementia

the rate of dementia deaths was lower than recent years

there were fewer deaths due to influenza or pneumonia among people who died with dementia

Among the 858 Australians who died due to COVID-19:

257 people (or 30%) of them also had dementia

those with dementia were less likely to have respiratory conditions recorded as a result of COVID-19

those with dementia tended to be older and likely lived in aged care facilites where outbreaks occurred

Note: All statistics refer to people who died with dementia recorded on their death certificate; rates are age-standardised and compared with the average rate for 2015-2019.

 

Older people living with dementia are particularly vulnerable during infectious disease outbreaks. Although the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia on people with dementia is not yet fully understood, they are more likely to develop severe COVID-19 and die from the virus than people without dementia. Between January and October 2020, nearly one-third of the more than 850 COVID-19 deaths in Australia were of people with dementia.

Over the past year Australia has introduced a range of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 and treat those affected. These have included setting up new treatment facilities, contact tracing and quarantine systems, implementing social-distancing measures and, at times, enforcing mask-wearing and locking-down areas where outbreaks occurred. As a result, the COVID-19 death toll in Australia has been well below that of other developed countries. Early evidence suggests that these measures have also helped to reduce deaths due to other conditions, such as influenza (Wang et al. 2020; Morgan et al. 2020; Department of Health 2020).

This report uses provisional mortality data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to examine deaths among people with dementia recorded on their death certificate during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. It looks at deaths that occurred in the first 10 months of 2020 (between 1 January and 27 October).

Age-standardised death rates among people with dementia recorded on their death certificate in 2020 were similar or lower than previous years

Age-standardised rates adjust for differences in the size and age structure of the population and help make more accurate comparisons over time. Overall during the first 10 months of 2020, the age-standardised death rate compared to the average rate for 2015–19 was:

  • similar for people who died due to dementia—where dementia was the underlying cause of death
  • lower for people who died with dementia—where dementia was an underlying and/or an associated cause of death

These results suggest that the measures in place to control the virus indirectly reduced dementia death rates in Australia during the first 10 months of 2020, and contrasts with the experience of other developed countries like the United Kingdom where deaths among people with dementia (even when not due to COVID-19) rose during the pandemic (Alzheimer’s UK 2020).

Fewer deaths from influenza or pneumonia occurred among people with dementia in 2020 than in recent years

The number of deaths due to influenza or pneumonia fell during the first 10 months of the pandemic among people who died with dementia recorded as an associated cause of death (13 people in 2020 compared to an average of 187 people over 2015-2019).

Similarly, among people who died due to dementia, influenza and pneumonia were recorded less frequently as associated causes of death during the pandemic (1,390 people in 2020 compared to 2,053 people on average over 2015-19).

Due to the small number of deaths, these findings should be interpreted with caution but they do support findings from other studies suggesting that the infection control measures Australia introduced in response to the pandemic, the public’s adherence to these measures, and the increased recorded uptake in influenza vaccinations, reduced transmission and deaths from other common transmissible infections (Beard et al. 2021).

3 in 10 people who died due to COVID-19 had dementia recorded on their death certificate

In the first 10 months of 2020, 858 people died due to COVID-19 in Australia. In comparison to the rest of Australia, the most significant direct impact of COVID-19 on people with dementia occurred during wave 2 of the pandemic in Greater Melbourne.

Among Australians who died due to COVID-19, 30% or 257 people had dementia recorded on their death certificate. People who died due to COVID-19 and with dementia recorded on their death certificate tended to be older and were less likely to have developed respiratory conditions as a result of COVID-19, compared to people who died due to COVID-19 without dementia on their death certificate. 

More information is needed to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people living with dementia

The report’s findings are based on provisional mortality data and these are subject to change. It is also important to bear in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing and mortality statistics are just one way to measure the impact of the virus. More data, over a longer period of time, are required to provide a more comprehensive picture of the impact of the pandemic on people living with dementia.