Wed | Dec 8, 2021

Shot in the dark

Vaccination crucial for at-risk elderly with dementia – expert

Published:Monday | March 29, 2021 | 12:17 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
A senior citizen is inoculated with a dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca by a public health nurse during a vaccination blitz for persons 75 years and older at the National Arena on Saturday.
A senior citizen is inoculated with a dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca by a public health nurse during a vaccination blitz for persons 75 years and older at the National Arena on Saturday.

“So mi get it already?” 90-year-old Joyce Washington asked.

Although she had got the COVID-19 vaccine five minutes earlier and had a Band-Aid at the spot where she received the jab, the retired educator had no recollection of the experience which will likely be a memorable one for millions of people worldwide.

Washington is among the estimated six per cent of Jamaicans who are deemed to have dementia.

According to professor of health and ageing at The University of the West Indies, Dr Denise Eldemire-Shearer, more than 40 per cent of those 80 years and older have the chronic disorder, which often manifests as progressive memory loss.

Washington was one of 612 persons over the age of 75 years who got their COVID-19 shot on Saturday at the National Arena during a mass vaccination blitz. The health ministry missed its target of 1,000 candidates.

Most of Jamaica’s 570 COVID-19 fatalities are persons over 60 years old who suffered from one or multiple underlying medical conditions.

The seniors were escorted by relatives and, in some cases, concerned citizens who drove them to the venue and waited for their return. As Washington waited with her son-in-law Brenton McLean, she had several questions which he patiently answered.

“So mi get the shot already? Poppyshow!” she asked a second time.

Her ears perked when she heard “COVID-19” and McLean good-naturedly shared information about the virus with her as she prodded.

“This virus is the new virus that I have been telling you about,” he said.

“So there was one before?” asked the spritely senior citizen.

“No, it is the same one, but the vaccine is just coming here to Jamaica,” he said.

McLean had, earlier that morning, taken a 78-year-old neighbour to the vaccination site, and after dropping her off, he took his mother-in-law to the Arena, where she received the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

In a room full of seniors, which included four centenarians, Washington was not the only person with dementia.

Another retired educator also had issues remembering things in her immediate past. Instead, she spoke about her experiences as an educator when she was asked to give her take on the process to get vaccinated. Her nephew, seated next to her, indicated her condition.

Eldemire-Shearer said Jamaica’s high incidence of hypertension and diabetes is among the factors that have contributed to dementia. She noted, however, that Jamaica’s rate of dementia is at the lower spectrum of the global average, which is between six and nine per cent.

The Government intends to inoculate more than 174,000 elderly persons in the first phase of the vaccination plan, and will be rolling out other vaccination blitzes in the coming weeks.

Eldemire-Shearer, who was the second person to get vaccinated in Jamaica, is happy that the elderly are a priority group. Those with dementia are a huge concern for her, for several reasons.

“You can’t always get across to them the importance of the mask, the importance of the social distancing, therefore their compliance with the necessary precautions is not always 100 per cent,” the ageing expert said.

“They can’t be left alone, so many of them have caregivers, whether it is a family member or a paid caregiver, and of course caregivers rotate, so it is not just one, very rarely one, so they are exposed by the caregivers who do their best, but as you know, we do have community spread.”

Eldemire-Shearer surmised that Washington and others like her will likely continue to ask if they received the jab until it eventually sinks in.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com