Cognitive issues following a COVID infection could increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Woman with hands on head - COVID Alzheimer's
Photo via Jose Navarro/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Amid growing concerns about the long-term effects of COVID-19, new research shows that COVID symptoms can persist long after recovery and potentially lead to cognitive issues. These COVID-related cognitive issues could increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent study.

As the pandemic has progressed, anecdotal evidence has shown many patients who recover from COVID continue to experience a variety of symptoms. This experience has become known as long COVID. Symptoms of long COVID may commonly include respiratory problems, low oxygen levels, and shortness of breath, but new research indicates that it may also have long-term effects on the brain, increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is defined as a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms eventually grow severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and people who experience it are usually 65 or older.

The Alzheimer’s Association and representatives from more than 25 countries are working with the World Health Organization to track the impact of COVID-19 on the brain. Scientists at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2021 have found links between COVID and long-term cognitive issues, including biological signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Dr. Heather M. Snyder, Alzheimer’s Association vice president of medical and scientific relations, “[T]hese new data point to disturbing trends showing COVID-19 infections leading to lasting cognitive impairment and even Alzheimer’s symptoms.”

In a study presented at AAIC, Thomas M. Wisniewski—professor of neurology, pathology, and psychiatry at New York University Grossman School of Medicine—explored the potential links between COVID-19 and clinical signs of Alzheimer’s. 

The study took blood plasma samples from 310 people who had been hospitalized with COVID. Of the participants, 158 experienced neurological symptoms like confusion while 152 did not. Patients who had no prior cognitive issues before contracting COVID exhibited biological markers associated with Alzheimer’s, brain injury, and neuroinflammation. 

According to Wisniewski, the findings suggest that patients who had COVID may have an acceleration of Alzheimer’s-related symptoms and pathology. 

Dr. Gabriel De Erausquin, of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Long School of Medicine, also presented a study at AAIC. This study examined neurological issues in Amerindians from Argentina who had recovered from COVID-19. The study assessed 300 participants three to six months after recovering from COVID.

More than 50% of the study’s participants had issues with forgetfulness, and 25% experienced dysfunction and language issues.

The research presented at AAIC is also supported by a new study published in the Lancet, which used data from over 80,000 participants. The researchers behind this study found that people who had recovered from COVID had significant cognitive issues, compared with a control group.

Amid this new research, numerous health experts have continued pushing vaccination efforts, noting that vaccines are the most efficient way to avoid catching COVID. 

Sources: Medical News Today, Cleveland Clinic, the Lancet, Alzheimer’s Association, National Institutes of Health

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