Those who had a persistent loss of smell were more likely to experience cognitive issues, they told the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. Three to six months after they were infected, more than half of the patients still struggled with forgetfulness and about a quarter experienced additional cognitive challenges. How sick a patient was with Covid-19 was not an indicator of whether they would experience cognitive decline.
“The severity of the initial disease does not predict who is going to get this,” Erausquin told CNN. “In fact, many of them had minimal symptoms — just a cold or loss of smell.” It’s too soon to tell whether the cognitive issues will worsen over time — as they would in Alzheimer’s patients — or if these patients will recover, Erausquin said.
“Brain fog in younger individuals has a different flavor, if you will,” Erausquin said. “They have more attentional problems, more concentration problems, and frequently have more anxiety and depression.” Biological Markers linked to Alzheimer’s
He noted that the cognitive symptoms his team observed appear to be distinct from the “brain fog,” associated with long-term symptoms of Covid-19, sometimes seen in younger patients. The cognitive issues –including persistent forgetfulness, difficulty sequencing tasks, and forgetting words and phrases — are similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s patients. Erausquin noted that the parts of the brain responsible for sense of smell overlap with those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.
Among 310 Covid-19 patients admitted to New York University Langone Health, the team found that those with neurological symptoms had higher levels of biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s. Those biomarkers include a protein called tau that’s been linked with Alzheimer’s and other compounds known as neurofilament light — an indicator of damage to nerve cells — and others. In additional research presented at the conference, Dr. Thomas Wisniewski, a professor of neurology at New York University Grossman School of Medicine, and colleagues found that Covid-19 patients over the age of 60 had biological blood markers also found in Alzheimer’s patients.
Wisniewski said more research is needed to understand how those biomarkers affect long-term cognition in people who were infected with Covid-19. “Those are the kinds of things that make you suspicious that indeed there may be an overlap with Alzheimer’s disease, of some sort,” Erausquin said. “But it’s very early in the game. We need a lot more data.” “These findings suggest that patients who had COVID-19 may have an acceleration of Alzheimer’s-related symptoms and pathology,” Wisniewski said in a statement.
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