Alzheimer’s, dementia deaths in Iowa trending up in pandemic

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DES MOINES, Iowa — While the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the lives of all Americans, it is hitting individuals and families impacted Alzheimer’s and dementia particularly hard.

Across the nation, there have been at least 31,047 more deaths through the end of September due to Alzheimer’s or dementia than would be expected normally. In Iowa 304 more people have passed from Alzheimer’s or dementia than expected — a 13.9% increase compared to the five-year average.

Two local families in the Des Moines area have sadly experienced this reality with their loved ones. Alzheimer’s Association support group facilitator Ken Gregersen of Ankeny was married to his wife, Evie, for 67 years and had been her caregiver for the last 10 years after she developed Alzheimer’s.

Evie had been living in a long-term care (LTC) facility since 2016, and Ken would visit her three times a day to feed and spend time with her. When the pandemic hit, he wasn’t able to visit with Evie in person until just a few weeks before she passed away in August.

Beth Goodson’s father, Lonnie, lived in Stuart with his wife of 59 years until this past February, when he was moved to a care facility after a bad fall. He developed Lewy Body Dementia more than four years ago, and his wife cared for him at home with the help of their son and daughter, Beth. Sadly, two weeks ago, after a COVID outbreak at his care facility, Lonnie passed away.

Though these situations were very difficult for both Ken and Beth to go through, they are both at peace and thankful that Evie and Lonnie are free of the devastating disease that deteriorated their memories and bodies.

“I could look at the downside or choose to look at the good,” Beth said, “and that’s what I choose to do. We had more time together in the last two to three years to help Mom and to keep Dad at home as long as possible.”

As of Nov. 20, there are currently 114 COVID-19 outbreaks in LTC facilities in Iowa, according to the Iowa Coronavirus website. There have been 982 deaths in LTCs, which accounts for 46% of the total deaths from COVID-19 in Iowa. This is 6% higher than the national average of COVID-19 deaths linked to LTC settings, according to recent reports.

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