As we head into our third fall and winter dealing with COVID-19, scientists are still trying to understand what the long-term effects of the virus will be, and a new study from Case Western Reserve University suggests that for older adults , contracting COVID can be a major obstacle to your cognitive health.
The research, published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that people aged 65 and older who were infected with COVID-19 were 50% to 80% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease within a year compared to their peers who did not contract the COVID-19. The highest risk was seen in women aged 85 and older.
“The factors involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease are poorly understood, but two pieces that are thought to be important are prior infections, especially viral infections, and inflammation,” said study co-author Pamela Davis. , MD, Ph.D. media release “Since SARS-CoV2 infection has been associated with central nervous system abnormalities, including inflammation, we wanted to test whether, even in the short term, COVID could increase diagnoses.”
Related: 8 Things You Shouldn’t Do When Trying to Prevent Cognitive Decline
The study looked at the medical records of millions of Americans over the age of 65, with 5.8 million people in the control group and 400,000 in the COVID-19 group. The researchers were unable to determine whether the COVID-19 infection actually causes patients to develop Alzheimer’s or simply causes the disease to express itself earlier than it would otherwise, but they plan to do more research on the topic in the future
“Alzheimer’s disease is a serious and challenging disease, and we thought we had changed the course a bit by reducing general risk factors such as hypertension, heart disease, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle,” he said. Davis said. “Now, so many people in the United States have had COVID, and the long-term consequences of COVID are still emerging. It is important to continue to monitor the impact of this disease on future disability.”
Because Alzheimer’s remains a disease without a cure, it’s critical to think about preventative measures, especially if you have a family history of cognitive impairment. Consider continuing to wear masks around your older loved ones, and if they’re already vaccinated, encourage them to get a booster shot.
Related: 5 habits to add to your day to prevent cognitive decline
Of course, there are other preventative measures you can take to lower your own Alzheimer’s risk, such as changing your diet a bit. A 2021 study found that people 65 and older who ate the MIND diet, a combination of the heart-healthy DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet, had fewer symptoms of cognitive impairment, even if they already had a diagnosis Alzheimer’s
And studies have pointed to other small habits that could help keep cognitive decline at bay. Even listening to music, and especially music that makes you want to dance, can improve your brain health. Other daily choices, such as good sleep and exercise, can also help.
The bottom line
New research from Case Western Reserve University found that people age 65 and older were up to 80 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease within a year if they were infected with COVID-19. But there are ways to help delay or prevent this cognitive decline, whether it’s wearing a mask around your loved ones or preparing tasty meals with plenty of brain-healthy ingredients.