In a new study from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, researchers found patients hospitalized for COVID-19 had higher levels over the short term of blood proteins known to rise with neurological damage than non-COVID-19 patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
They found higher levels of seven markers of brain damage (neurodegeneration) in COVID-19 patients with neurological symptoms than those without them, and much higher levels in patients that died in the hospital than in those discharged and sent home.
A second analysis found that a subset of the damage markers in patients hospitalized with COVID-19, over the short term were much higher than in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and in one case more than twice as high.
The findings suggest that patients hospitalized for COVID-19, and especially in those experiencing neurological symptoms during their acute infection, may have levels of brain injury markers that are as high as, or higher than, those seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
The current study identified 251 patients that, although 71 years of age on average, had no record or symptoms of cognitive decline or dementia before being hospitalized for COVID-19.
These patients were then divided into groups with and without neurological symptoms during their acute COVID-19 infection, when patients either recovered and were discharged, or died.
The research team also compared markers levels in the COVID-19 group to patients in the NYU Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center study.
None of these 161 control patients (54 cognitively normal, 54 with mild cognitive impairment, and 53 diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease) had COVID-19.
The team says traumatic brain injury, which is also associated with increases in these biomarkers, does not mean that a patient will develop Alzheimer’s or related dementia later on, but does increase the risk of it.
Whether that kind of link exists in those who survive severe COVID-19 is a question we urgently need to answer with ongoing monitoring of these patients.
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The study is published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia. One author of the study is Jennifer A. Frontera, MD.
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