Excess Deaths in Assisted Living and Nursing Homes during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Alberta, Canada

J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2024 May 20;25(7):105032. doi: 10.1016/j.jamda.2024.105032. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Assisted living (AL) is a significant and growing congregate care option for vulnerable older adults designed to reduce the use of nursing homes (NHs). However, work on excess mortality in congregate care during the COVID-19 pandemic has primarily focused on NHs with only a few US studies examining AL. The objective of this study was to assess excess mortality among AL and NH residents with and without dementia or significant cognitive impairment in Alberta, Canada, during the first 2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic, relative to the 3 years before.

Design: Population-based, retrospective cohort study.

Setting and participants: Residents who lived in an AL or NH facility operated or contracted by the Provincial health care system to provide publicly funded care in Alberta between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2021.

Methods: We used administrative health care data, including Resident Assessment Instrument - Home Care (RAI-HC, AL) and Minimum Data Set 2.0 (RAI-MDS 2.0, NHs) records, linked with data on residents' vital statistics, COVID-19 testing, emergency room registrations, and hospital stays. The outcome was excess deaths during COVID-19 (ie, the number of deaths beyond that expected based on pre-pandemic data), estimated, using overdispersed Poisson generalized linear models.

Results: Overall, the risk of excess mortality [adjusted incidence rate ratio (95% confidence interval)] was higher in ALs than in NHs [1.20 (1.14-1.26) vs 1.10 (1.07-1.13)]. Weekly peaks in excess deaths coincided with COVID-19 pandemic waves and were higher among those with diagnosed dementia or significant cognitive impairment in both, AL and NHs.

Conclusions and implications: Finding excess mortality within both AL and NH facilities should lead to greater focus on infection prevention and control measures across all forms of congregate housing for vulnerable older adults. The specific needs of residents with dementia in particular will have to be addressed.

Keywords: Assisted living; COVID-19; Dementia; Excess mortality; Geriatric health services; Nursing homes.