CLEVELAND — New research Tuesday from scientists at Case Western Reserve University shows the COVID-19 virus has significantly worse outcomes for those living with dementia than those who do not have the disease.
“This is not a small problem and we feel that we have identified an especially vulnerable population,” researcher Pamela Davis said.
The first time News 5 crews spoke to Sheila Tomsic in September, she knew her mother’s days were numbered.
However, the hands of time turned more quickly than expected.
“Mom passed and she never understood why I couldn't come visit her,” Tomsic said. “All of a sudden it was like she wasn't there anymore and then she was dead.”
Hours after News 5’s initial interview with Tomsic, her mother Theresa died from complications of COVID-19 while living in the dementia unit of a Northeast Ohio nursing home.
“Just so sad, so depressed. You can't see your family and then they lose all hope,” Tomsic said. “That's how she died. By herself. Without me.”
Nearly five months later, Tomsic’s mother is included in an unfortunate statistic that shows dementia patients are twice as likely to contract COVID-19 than those without dementia.
“There was also a remarkable increase once you had COVID, if you had dementia, in hospitalization and in death,” Davis said.
A new study published by CWRU highlights the ways in which those with memory loss diseases are being afflicted by the pandemic at an alarmingly high rate.
“In the state of Ohio, nearly 60% of the deaths from COVID have been in patients at congregate-care facilities,” Davis said. “Prior to the vaccine, the ways that we tried to control the spread of COVID was by limiting social contact. For patients with dementia, that is terrible. They crave human contact. They crave anything that's familiar.”
For Tomsic’s mother, the hourglass ran out of sand less than a week after she originally tested positive for COVID-19.
“I didn't get to say goodbye. The last thing I did was I called and the nurse put her on the phone and she was trying to talk, but she couldn’t,” Tomsic said. “I said, ‘Mom, I love you and I miss you.’ And she was just really trying to talk, but she couldn’t."
Tomsic said she is not at all surprised by CWRU’S new findings.
“It spread like wildfire there. People died. My mom died. They're the most vulnerable. They're going to get sick. They're weak,” Tomsic said. “No family around. Nobody around. You know, that's fatal for anybody.”
Tomsic said she takes comfort in knowing her mother is reunited with her father but wishes she could re-write her mother’s final chapter and give her a more dignified death.
“My dad's next to her in his urn and they’re in the corner together. He brought her home to heaven. I believe with all my heart that he was with her when I couldn't be,” Tomsic said. “If you're sick and you're isolated, you get depressed. You get lonely and a lot of people lose their will to live.”