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Fears grow for dementia patients following COVID-19 lockdowns

With a coronavirus outbreak in Sydney leading to a North Shore lockdown new research suggests COVID-induced isolation is taking a worrying toll on dementia patients.

The study from the University of Sydney and Dementia Australia found many elderly Australians with the condition suffered “significant and irreversible cognitive decline” as a result of extended periods of isolation.

‘Dementia’ is an umbrella term referring to a myriad of symptoms all linked with declining mental proficiency and is caused by a range of other health conditions – including Alzheimer’s disease, Creuzfeldt Jakob’s disease, and Korsakoff’s syndrome.

The condition affects more than 450,000 Australians, typically over the age of 65 but anyone can develop these symptoms.

While the study addressed the impacts of COVID-19 on all Australians with dementia it noted those in aged care are disproportionately at risk of being isolated from their families.

“It is clear that COVID-19 has had fundamental and lasting mental health impacts for people living with dementia, their families and carers,” the study said.

“Some people living with dementia and family members have shared with Dementia Australia that they have noticed significant cognitive and, in some cases, physical, decline since the COVID-19 outbreak.”

The rate of dementia patients reporting ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ cognitive health also doubled (from 8% up to 16%) during the pandemic, the study found.

The study also highlighted a “downward trend” across all cognitive health ratings, with more than 20% of people noticing a change in their overall cognition.

At a loss for words

As dementia gets worse, people can lose the ability to effectively communicate with carers and family.

Unfortunately many of those living with dementia also suffer from chronic pain but the inability to verbalise their symptoms to carers can make it difficult for this pain to be treated, according to PainChek CEO Philip Daffas. PainChek is a mobile phone app designed for health care professionals which uses artificial intelligence and complex algorithms to assess the pain severity levels of people living with dementia who cannot reliably verbalise their pain. The app uses camera based technologyto identify the presence of micro-facial muscle movements that are indicative of pain..

The company is also working on an equivalent app for preverbal children.

“Our vision for PainChek is to become not just a pain assessment tool for people who can’t verbalise their pain, but it’s also to expand to become the universal pain assessment solution and to assess pain for all people everywhere.”

Watch Now: Fears grow for dementia patients following COVID-19 lockdowns, December 23, 2020, Author Killian Plastowan and watch the presentation presented by Philip Daffas, CEO, recorded on 16 December 2020.

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