COVID-19 had a clear direct effect on health outcomes, but several recent studies have emerged showing how the pandemic impacted unrelated health outcomes due to lack of access and other issues. While the exact causes are not always clear, the pandemic led to increases in deaths from heart disease, stroke, dementia, addiction-related disorders, and more.
A study published in JAMA Network Open showed that the risk of dying from heart disease or stroke spiked in 2020 after years of trending downward, likely because of avoided or delayed treatment, overcrowding in hospitals, poorer medication adherence, and new barriers to healthy behaviors because of the pandemic.
Similarly, a study published in JAMA Neurology showed that Medicare enrollees with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias had much higher mortality rates in 2020 than in 2019, even in regions with lower COVID-19 prevalence. The pandemic disrupted healthcare for all people and had a particularly large impact on nursing homes, which likely affected these statistics.
In addition to the above studies, research has emerged showing that Black and Hispanic women died at higher rates due to pregnancy during 2020, that alcohol-related deaths rose during the pandemic, and that drug overdose deaths worsened in 2020.
Issues in healthcare in 2020 caused excess deaths and greater disparities in health outcomes, and it is likely that more negative effects will emerge with time. Many Americans’ regular healthcare was disrupted, and many of us may need to make a deliberate effort to return to previous practices, including regular health and dental checkups. Additionally, reestablishing exercise routines and social activities may help improve health outcomes and lessen the negative impact of the pandemic’s disruptions to daily life.