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Visits to the emergency department by community-dwelling people with dementia during the first 2 waves of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario: a repeated cross-sectional analysis

Maclagan LC, Wang X, Emdin A, Jones A, Jaakkimainen RL, Schull MJ, Sourial N, Vedel I, Swartz RH, Bronskill SE. 2022; 10(3):E610-21. Epub 2022 Jul 5. DOI: https://doi.org/10.9778/cmajo.20210301


Background — Community-dwelling people with dementia have been affected by COVID-19 pandemic health risks and control measures that resulted in worsened access to health care and service cancellation. One critical access point in health systems is the emergency department. We aimed to determine the change in weekly rates of visits to the emergency department of community-dwelling people with dementia in Ontario during the first 2 waves of the COVID-19 pandemic compared with historical patterns.

Methods — We conducted a population-based repeated cross-sectional study and used health administrative databases to compare rates of visits to the emergency department among community-dwelling people with dementia who were aged 40 years and older in Ontario during the first 2 waves of the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020–February 2021) with the rates of a historical period (March 2019–February 2020). Weekly rates of visits to the emergency department were evaluated overall, by urgency and by chapter from the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision. We used Poisson models to compare pandemic and historical rates at the week of the lowest rate during the pandemic period and the latest week.

Results — We observed large immediate declines in rates of visits to the emergency department during the COVID-19 pandemic (rate ratio [RR] 0.50, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.47–0.53), which remained below historical levels by the end of the second wave (RR 0.88, 95% CI 0.83–0.92). Rates of both nonurgent (RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.28–0.39) and urgent (RR 0.51, 95% CI 0.48–0.55) visits to the emergency department also declined and remained low (RR 0.68, 95% CI 0.59–0.79, RR 0.91, 95% CI 0.86–0.96), respectively. Visits for injuries, and circulatory, respiratory and musculoskeletal diseases declined and remained below historical levels.

Interpretation — Prolonged reductions in visits to the emergency department among people with dementia during the first 2 pandemic waves raise concerns about patients who delay seeking acute care services. Understanding the long-term effects of these reductions requires further research.

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