Could COVID-19 Lead to Dementia?

McNair Dallas Law

older couple needing Medicaid or VA Pension

Over 80 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients have neurological symptoms, a Northwestern Medicine health system study found. Even patients who have mild cases of COVID-19 have reported memory loss, trouble focusing and other related problems that can last for months.

Will COVID-19 lead to dementia in some recovered patients?  Scientists say there’s compelling evidence that the negative effects of the virus could linger, possibly creating a surge of cases of dementia and cognitive decline years in the future, says AARP’s recent article entitled “Could COVID-19 Increase Your Risk of Dementia?”

“It’s possible — I’d even say it’s probable — that having COVID-19 will increase your risk of dementia,” said Gabriel de Erausquin, M.D., a professor of neurology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “We just don’t have enough information yet to answer that question with certainty.”

De Erausquin and other researchers have started a large-scale, global study to look at the short- and long-term impact of COVID-19 on the brain, including the ways in which it may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

“We want to be out in front of this to minimize the impact, predict who is most at risk and try to identify behaviors or other factors which can help us reduce the impact in older patients,” de Erausquin said.

With funding from the Alzheimer’s Association and technical guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), the study will monitor more than 40,000 patients age 50+. The first results are expected in early 2022.

“The creation of an international group of scientists to further study the virus’ impact on the brain and share information is critically important,” said Sarah Lenz Lock, executive director of AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health.

“We also need to learn how to better avoid the risks and mitigate the harms of the virus to reduce cognitive decline and dementia in the future,” she said.

Scientists have been investigating links between infection and dementia for years, said Avindra Nath, M.D., clinical director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Research shows that a single episode of an infection, such as being hospitalized with pneumonia, can speed up cognitive decline—particularly if you are already predisposed to memory problems.

“In general, we know that as you get older and get any kind of disease, even a urinary tract infection, it can bring out an underlying dementia,” Nath said.

Reference: AARP (Jan. 5, 2021) “Could COVID-19 Increase Your Risk of Dementia?”

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