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November 12, 2020

HQC to contribute to study on how COVID-19 has impacted those living with dementia

Researchers from across Canada are taking part in a study to look at how care can be improved for older adults living with dementia.

The aim of the study is to help minimize the direct and indirect consequences COVID-19 has had on people living with dementia – a group of conditions characterized by memory loss and impaired judgement that currently affects more than half a million Canadians – and their caregivers.

The Saskatchewan Health Quality Council (HQC) is one of the partner organizations contributing to the study. HQC CEO Tracey Sherin explained staff will be analyzing administrative data, looking at health care use – which includes physician visits, hospitalizations, and long-term care – of people living with dementia before and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The goal is to identify how COVID-19 has impacted people’s health and how their health is managed. The analysis will be completed by all partner provinces, then compared and contrasted,” Sherin said. “Part of what we do at HQC is collaborate with other researchers from across the country to conduct and promote research that has a direct impact on the quality of health care delivered to people living in Saskatchewan. Our overarching goal is to help make change happen faster in health and health care in the province so residents can live healthy lives and have access to high-quality care.

“This research partnership is an excellent example of how HQC can contribute towards timely research that will have a direct and positive impact on the delivery of health care in Saskatchewan.”

Nearly 80 per cent of all COVID-19-related deaths in Canada are connected to long-term care facilities and seniors’ homes, and an average of 70 per cent of residents living in those facilities have dementia.

People living with dementia are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are they at higher risk of infection due to not being able to recall public health recommendations, but they also typically have more than one disease or condition at the same time, which is a risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection.

Jacqueline Quail, a senior researcher with HQC, explained dementia affects a particularly treasured population and is something that hits close to home for her.

“These are people’s parents and grandparents. Some are living in long-term care facilities, which have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, but many also live in the community with a caregiver,” Quail said. “My own father has cognitive problems and I have seen the changes in his health during the quarantine. He is no longer able to attend his exercise classes and visit with his friends, and has become noticeably more frail, less steady on his feet and more easily confused.”

Quail is curious about whether this is a natural progression of his health problems or whether it relates to how COVID-19 has impacted the health system. She said she is looking forward to seeing the results of this study.

“This research is important in that it will help us understand the direct and indirect effects of COVID-19 upon people living with dementia and their caregivers. This will, in turn, be used to develop timely solutions,” she said.

Entitled “Improving the care of older adults living with dementia across Canada during the COVID pandemic: A mixed methods study to inform policy and practice,” the study will measure, describe and identify strategies to inform policy-makers, health system managers, clinicians and community organizations. The study will be conducted in four provinces – Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan – and in France, and will measure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences on health service use, infection rate and mortality in people with dementia.

The study is being funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and is led by researchers located at McGill University in Montreal. HQC is one of many stakeholders included in this study, which includes decision-makers, managers, people living with dementia, caregivers and clinicians.

Researchers’ efforts will be combined with those of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, provincial Alzheimer societies, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Canadian Geriatrics Society and Dementia Advocacy Canada to minimize the effects of the current wave of the pandemic and prepare for future waves.

Analysis begins in November and the study is expected to take one year to complete.