In-Depth: Alzheimer's Association studies link COVID-19 with long-term brain diseases

People with COVID brain issues at risk
Posted at 6:00 AM, Aug 03, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - New research from the Alzheimer's Association says people who have COVID-related neurological issues may be at higher risk for Alzheimer's or Dementia later in life.

The studies, released at last week's Alzheimer's Association International Conference, found that patients "suffer significant cognitive impairment" even after recovering from COVID-19. The studies didn't specify an age range but said the issues were most prevalent in "older patients."

One study looked at people who reported a loss of smell after a COVID-19 infection. That study focused on 300 older Amerindians from Argentina who reported a loss of smell after the illness.

According to the results, no matter how severe the case of COVID-19, more than half showed "persistent problems with forgetfulness." One in four of the people studied had language issues or executive dysfunction

Another study of people hospitalized in New York found that patients with COVID-19 related brain problems also had higher levels of six blood biomarkers known to be early indicators of Alzheimer's and other significant brain injuries.

"Alzheimer's does not come on, all of a sudden," explains Katie Croskrey, the Executive Director of the San Diego/Imperial Alzheimer's Association.

She says these findings, especially the blood bio-markers, mean people who suffer from neurological issues during or after a COVID-19 infection could develop Alzheimer's or dementia as they age.

"A lot of the long haul symptoms people that continue to have long after the majority of symptoms have gone away from COVID, some of those symptoms are very similar to dementia," she says.

The findings echo similar studies that ABC 10News has reported on extensively over the last year.

In November, researchers at UC San Diego found that 30% of all COVID-19 patients and 80% of those hospitalized report some kind of neurological problem.

Another study published in February found the virus can kill brain cells.

And just last month, a study from the UK found people who recovered from COVID-19 scored worse on tests that measure reasoning, memory, and problem-solving.

For Croskrey, it's a warning the healthcare system could have to deal with COVID-related brain issues for decades.

"If we see people that have had COVID-19 in their 20s or 30s and then 20 years later develop Alzheimer's or dementia, we're not equipped to care for those folks at this point," she says.

That would put a strain on caregivers, families, and assisted living facilities that already struggle to keep up with current needs.

"If we add more people that are potentially living with dementia or some type of cognitive decline that's associated with COVID-19, it's going to be an added challenge and burden to family caregivers," says Croskrey.

In the wake of the studies, Croskrey says the Alzheimer's Association will double down on the advice they've been giving people since the Pandemic began - do whatever you can to avoid getting COVID-19. They also say to stay healthy, get vaccinated, eat right, and exercise.

As Croskrey puts it, "What's good for the heart is good for the brain."