In two recent studies presented at an Alzheimer’s Association meeting, researchers found possible links between COVID-19 with Alzheimer’s disease.
One study by the University of Texas found a surprising amount of dementia-like changes in memory and thinking for at least six months after a bout with the coronavirus—regardless of the severity of their infection.
Another study from New York University-Langone Health found Alzheimer’s-related proteins in the blood of New Yorkers whose COVID-19 triggered brain symptoms early on.
These findings may explain why some COVID-19 survivors suffer “brain fog” and other problems that can last for months. One author is Dr. Gabriel de Erausquin.
In the first study, the team tracked about 300 people in the Jujuy province of Argentina that kept a health registry of anyone tested for the virus.
They examined people 60 and older who had no record of brain disorders prior to the pandemic and asked if they’d undergo cognitive testing.
Between three and six months after their coronavirus infection, the team found about 20% of the older adults had problems with short-term memory.
And 34% had more profound impairment including trouble finding words and difficulty with longer-term memory, what de Erausquin called a “dementia-like syndrome.”
The severity of their COVID-19 didn’t predict the problems—instead, those most at risk had a persistent loss of smell. That loss often is temporary with COVID-19.
But the team says the brain’s olfactory region is directly linked to areas critical for memory, and a loss of smell is sometimes an early sign of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
Now the study will track participants for three years to see how they fare. While the early findings focused on older adults, there’s other evidence that lingering problems in younger COVID-19 survivors.
In the second study, the team tested the blood of more than 300 older adults hospitalized for COVID-19. About half experienced new neurologic symptoms such as confusion as part of their coronavirus infection.
The team found a jump in their blood levels of proteins linked to inflammation of the nervous system, brain cell injury and Alzheimer’s disease.
The finding suggests the brain is responding to injury, but it will take time to tell if the abnormal levels really signal Alzheimer’s-like changes or are a temporary blip.
Previous research has found that certain viruses may play a role in later Alzheimer’s.
More research is needed to tell if COVID-19 might raise the risk of Alzheimer’s or other brain problems later in life, or if people eventually recover.
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