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Many studies are uncovering an alarming link between COVID-19 and dementia.
One study found that more than 80% of 509 hospitalized COVID-19 patients had “neurologic manifestations,” according to Northwestern Medicine.
The brain inflammation and mini-strokes observed in COVID-19 patients may increase their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, another study found.
Now a new study from the UK found that people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the previous six months were more likely to develop depression, dementia, psychosis and stroke.
“The study confirms the researchers suspicions that a COVID-19 diagnosis is not just related to respiratory symptoms, it is also related to psychiatric and neurological problems”, Prof Dame Til Wykes, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, told BBC News.
Why these Studies on COVID-19 and Dementia are Important
Loss of smell and taste is among the first symptoms for many COVID-19 patients. This is why scientists have long believed the virus impacts the brain.
Now these new studies are confirming the relationship between the virus and brain damage. The same kind of damage that paves the way for diseases like Alzheimer’s and other dementia.
This includes a new study of the gene ApoE4.
ApoE4 gene is involved in the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. It also could play a role in susceptibility to and severity of a COVID-19 infection.
“Our study provides a causal link between the Alzheimer’s disease risk factor ApoE4 and COVID-19 and explains why some (e.g., ApoE4 carriers) but not all COVID-19 patients exhibit neurological manifestations,” Yanhong Shi, director of the Division of Stem Cell Biology at City of Hope and co-corresponding author, told the press. “Understanding how risk factors for neurodegenerative diseases impact COVID-19 susceptibility and severity will help us to better cope with COVID-19 and its potential long-term effects in different patient populations.”
This is important because of the rise of Alzheimer’s.
Before COVID-19, studies blamed dementia for nearly three times more deaths than had been widely believed. Researchers estimate that dementia causes 13.6% of deaths.
The global societal economic cost of dementia is $818 billion, according to a 2015 report. This is similar to the entire GDP of countries like Indonesia, the Netherlands, and Turkey.
Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease.
The ratio is more severe for people of color. Studies show that in U.S. Latinos are 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than whites.
Women of color, including Latinas, face higher risks than their white peers. This is due to factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and socioeconomic risk.
“The number of Hispanic elders with Alzheimer’s and related dementias could increase more than six-fold, from fewer than 200,000 today to as many as 1.3 million by 2050,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association.”
Can Vaccination for COVID-19 Help?
Given the emerging COVID-dementia link, UMass Memorial Health Care researchers have embarked on a two-year study. They will explore how COVID-19 triggers inflammation in the brain. Inflammation, in turn, can cause brain matter to start to break down, leading to dementia.
“We believe COVID-19 infection causes neuroinflammation, which in turn causes a decline in cognitive capability and loss of brain matter,” Dr. Douglas T. Golenbock of UMass told MassLive.
Another big question is the role of COVID-19 vaccines.
All the COVID-19 vaccines were tested in large clinical trials to make sure they meet safety standards. This includes those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia and their caregivers, who have been critically impacted by the pandemic.
The Alzheimer’s Association strongly support use of the vaccine.
Claims that the vaccine can contribute to Alzheimer’s are “entirely speculative,” according to researchers around the world.
“Now, a new myth has reared its ugly head. A paper written by a well-known anti-vaxxer named J. Bart Classen and published in a scientific journal — if we can even call it that (because it’s not indexed in PubMed) — claims that the mRNA vaccines that target coronavirus could cause prion diseases like Alzheimer’s. It’s total garbage,” writes Dr. Alex Berezow for the American Council on Science and Health.
Health experts continue to urge people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important steps families affected by Alzheimer’s disease can take to protect themselves and their loved ones,” said Dr. J. Wesson Ashford of Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, in a press release.
How Can We Tackle Misinformation?
When we encounter COVID-19 misinformation on social media, it’s important we do something about it.
Here are some steps we can take:
- Correct it when you can.
“Re-sharing the original with a comment can sometimes help to amplify the original source. A better idea, used by some professional fact-checkers, is to take a screen shot of the image or video, and then draw a red X through it and share that,” according to the Washington Post.
- Don’t share content without examining it first.
“People are too quick to share information they can’t personally vouch for. Especially if you have a strong reaction, use that as a reminder to step away. Stop looking at it, then come back in a few minutes and ask yourself: ‘Do I really know enough to share this?’” according to the Washington Post.
- Help out friends and family who have fallen victim to fake news.
“Research shows that, in general, people tend to accept corrections from people they know more than people they don’t. If someone in your life shares misinformation on social media, don’t be afraid to fact-check them. If you want to correct them, be sure to do it in a friendly way,” according to Poynter.
When you correct misinformation, make sure you have the facts readily available.
One resource you can utilize is Salud America!’s “Juntos, We Can Stop COVID-19” campaign. This digital communication campaign aims to help Latino families take action to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The #JuntosStopCovid campaign features bilingual, culturally relevant fact sheets, infographics, and video role model stories to encourage Latinos to change their public health behaviors, including getting the vaccine when available.
Please share the campaign with your friends, family, and colleagues!
share the campaign in ENGLISH!
share the campaign in SPANISH!
By The Numbers
Expected rise in Latino cancer cases in coming years