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Trends in health service use for Canadian adults with dementia and Parkinson disease during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic

Bronskill SE, Maclagan LC, Maxwell CJ, Iaboni A, Jaakkimainen RL, Marras C, Wang X, Guan J, Harris DA, Emdin A, Jones A, Sourial N, Godard-Sebillotte C, Vedel I, Austin PC, Swartz RH. JAMA Health Forum. 2022; 3(1):e214599. Epub 2022 Jan 21. DOI:

Importance — Persons with dementia and Parkinson disease (PD) are vulnerable to disruptions in health care and services.

Objective — To examine changes in health service use among community-dwelling persons with dementia, persons with PD, and older adults without neurodegenerative disease during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Design, Setting, and Participants — Repeated cross-sectional analysis using population-based administrative data among community-dwelling persons with dementia, persons with PD, and adults 65 years and older at the start of each week from March 1 through the week of September 20, 2020 (pandemic period), and March 3 through the week of September 22, 2019 (historical period), in Ontario, Canada.

Exposures — COVID-19 pandemic as of March 1, 2020.

Main Outcomes and Measures — Main outcomes were weekly rates of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, nursing home admissions, home care, virtual and in-person physician visits, and all-cause mortality. Poisson regression models were used to calculate weekly rate ratios (RRs) with 95% CIs comparing pandemic weeks with historical levels.

Results — Among those living in the community as of March 1, 2020, persons with dementia (n = 131 466; mean [SD] age, 80.1 [10.1] years) were older than persons with PD (n = 30 606; 73.7 [10.2] years) and older adults (n = 2 363 742; 74.0 [7.1] years). While all services experienced declines, the largest drops occurred in nursing home admissions (RR for dementia: 0.10; 95% CI, 0.07-0.15; RR for PD: 0.03; 95% CI, 0.00-0.21; RR for older adults: 0.11; 95% CI, 0.06-0.18) and emergency department visits (RR for dementia: 0.45; 95% CI, 0.41-0.48; RR for PD: 0.40; 95% CI, 0.34-0.48; RR for older adults: 0.45; 95% CI, 0.44-0.47). After the first wave, most services returned to historical levels except physician visits, which remained elevated (RR for dementia: 1.07; 95% CI, 1.05-1.09; RR for PD: 1.10, 95% CI, 1.06-1.13) and shifted toward virtual visits. Older adults continued to experience lower hospitalizations. All-cause mortality was elevated across cohorts.

Conclusions and Relevance — In this population-based repeated cross-sectional study in Ontario, Canada, those with dementia, those with PD, and older adults sought hospital care far less than usual, were not admitted to nursing homes, and experienced excess mortality during the first wave of the pandemic. Most services returned to historical levels, but virtual physician visits remained a feature of care. While issues of equity and quality of care are still emerging among persons with neurodegenerative diseases, policies to support virtual care are necessary.

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