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What role has COVID-19 played in cognitive issues with older adults?

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We acknowledge that COVID-19 has disrupted and complicated life for all members of our society, infected or not with the illness. One area that we at Bridgepoint have paid close attention to is the effect COVID-19 has had on older adults, particularly in relation to cognitive issues such as dementia.

Studies show that our geriatric populations, notably those with Alzheimer disease and related mental disorders (ADRD), have suffered from COVID-19 infections in multiple ways related to their physical and mental health. One of these results shows that COVID-19 poses an increased risk to older adults with some form of cognitive deficiency. As data has become more available, research has been able to uncover how COVID-19 has accelerated cognitive impairment in many individuals; and we may have some insight into how future cases of dementia may unfold.

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How has COVID-19 affected older adults?

The past two years have revealed a shift in the demographics associated with COVID-19 cases. Early in the pandemic, older adults were primarily affected. More recently, we have seen an increase in cases for the younger members of society.

Certain risks have played a factor in these data points. Initial outbreaks of COVID-19 affected large assemblies of individuals, namely those residing in nursing and retirement homes as well as hospital populations. Unfortunately, dementia, Alzheimer disease, and other mental disorders increase the risk of COVID-19 acquisition in addition to illness severity and hospitalization. Additionally, these factors also increase the risk of death in COVID-19 patients.

On another note, early predictions forecast that non-clinical factors, such as social isolation and disruptions to care and normal routines, would cause an increase in behavioral and psychologic symptoms associated with dementia (BPSD). These projections have proven true as BPSD has generally increased with an escalation of anxieties, insomnia, and depression.

Overall mental health has declined over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, both from the direct effects above as well as the disturbances to life as we were accustomed. Unfortunately, our senior population has borne a large portion of this aftereffect.

What are the cognitive effects of COVID-19?

COVID-19 can generate any number of problems for patients, often playing out in different symptoms affecting the CNS and PNS as noted above. Because of their already sensitive neurological systems, older adults are more susceptible to instances of cognitive issues. These symptoms affecting the CNS and PNS include:

  • Delirium
  • Encephalopathy
  • Seizure
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Ataxia
  • Sleep disorders
  • Myalgia
  • Ageusia
  • Headaches

These effects are particularly concerning to older adults as they bring about new concerns and potential complicate other existing conditions.

What are the long-term effects of COVID-19 on cognitive issues?

While we cannot make any definitive conclusions at this point, it is apparent that COVID-19 infections result in increased risk factors for dementia. It is very possible that we will see an escalation of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in our population.

We can confirm that long term effects of COVID-19 on the brain can include both functional changes as well as structural changes to this vital organ. Recent neuroimaging studies have shown that older adults have incurred cerebrovascular damage in the brain’s white matter, the brain stem, and frontotemporal corical areas. Another study showed that neurological symptoms in patients who recovered from COVID-19 were associated with hypometabolism in frontotemporal regions.

Studies shared through the 2021 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference point out that COVID-19 patients show a strong correlation between neurological symptoms and brain injury, neruoinflammation, and Alzheimer’s. More studies are required, but we see an unsettling tendency for COVID-19 infections to lead toward cognitive impairment.

Future observations and studies will help us determine whether COVID-19 infections add to the risk of prospective cognitive issues and dementia.

If you believe COVID-19 has affected your mental health, please contact us.


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Bridgepoint encourages clinicians, patients, and their loved ones to research new methodologies and techniques to improve mental health and wellbeing. To assist with your own learning, we’ve put together a variety of resources on a variety of topics – including genomics – to help you on your mental health journey.

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