Beds In Empty Hospital Ward

Nearly half a million Arizonans are living with Alzheimer’s or caring for a loved one with the disease. Prior to COVID-19, our state was grappling with how to prepare for an astounding 33% increase over the next five years in the population impacted by all dementias.  

Today, as a direct result of COVID-19, we are facing dire consequences in congregate care settings—where nearly 500 high-risk sites (nursing homes and assisted-living communities) have reported COVID-19 outbreaks.

More startling is the number of seniors in hospitals today. Roughly 40% of all COVID-19 hospital inpatients are over the age of 65. We know—with age the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, that a large number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients have dementia, along with other serious co-morbid conditions. Compounding the challenge is the disproportionate impact of Alzheimer’s disease and COVID-19 on the Latino community, with 38% of hospitalized Arizonans identifying as Hispanic.

As patients slowly recover, these 2,300-plus individuals will be discharged into congregate settings where personal protective equipment is in short supply and infection control protocols are changing by the day. Gov. Doug Ducey, in his May 4 executive order, acknowledged that these settings “pose a higher risk for the transmission and severe outcomes associated with COVID-19,” as these are “homes for some of our most vulnerable populations.”

As a volunteer advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association and former caregiver for my mother, I’m calling on my state to put in place long-term care safeguards to protect residents in danger of COVID-19. I urge Gov. Ducey and legislative leaders to form a statewide interdepartmental Long-Term Care Emergency Response Task Force to closely examine the entire continuum from home, to hospital, to congregate settings. We need a holistic view to ensure patients aren’t caught in the middle of surge activity, placing frail elders in peril when we should be protecting them instead.

The Alzheimer’s Association works in all 50 states and has learnings from places like New York that Arizona can avoid. To see its comprehensive COVID-19 LTC recommendations, visit alz.org.