First in-depth study of COVID-19 in older people and those with dementia published

Date: 07 October 2020

Lancet Psychiatry

New research into the impact of coronavirus on older adults in psychiatric wards in London has been published in The Lancet Psychiatry. Contributors include Dr Lauren Huzzey, BEH Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist.

The study found that at least 38% of older adults in psychiatric wards in London were infected with COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic and that 15% of infected patients (19 people) in the mental health wards died from the illness.

Researchers also found that psychiatric wards were slow to receive tests and personal protective equipment (PPE), which may have increased the mortality rates.

The study reviewed data from all 344 hospital patients of five mental health trusts in London who were either over 65 or had young onset dementia, in March and April 2020 – a group that is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Just over half had dementia while most others had either a psychotic illness or depression.

None of the patients already had known COVID-19 when they were admitted to hospital, and yet 131 ended up diagnosed with COVID-19 by the end of the two-month period. Of those who fell ill with COVID-19, 35% experienced delirium or acute cognitive decline as a result.

Lead author Professor Gill Livingston (UCL Psychiatry and Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust) said: “Most of these people had no choice but to be in psychiatric care, so the state has an ethical imperative to protect them. Our findings show that there are unequal standards of care between mental health and physical health wards.

“People shouldn’t be disadvantaged by being in a psychiatric ward.”

The research team found some positive signs in terms of how quickly the hospital staff adapted, as some staff were quickly trained to support with oxygen treatment, and some fostered closer connections with doctors from other wards who came in to treat respiratory illnesses.

Professor Livingston said: “There remains an urgent need to fully prepare for a possible second wave this winter, while also ensuring that we are well prepared for potential future pandemics.”

Read the research report

  • Summary:

    New research into the impact of coronavirus on older adults in psychiatric wards in London has been published in The Lancet Psychiatry. Contributors include Dr Lauren Huzzey, BEH Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist.