A recent study using the electronic health records of more than 6 million Americans suggests that adults over 65 with a history of COVID-19 have a significantly higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Although the study adds to growing concerns about the correlation between coronavirus and brain function, it is limited and does not show that COVID-19 directly causes Alzheimer’s disease.
“There are bound to be inaccuracies when you simply use electronic health record diagnostic codes for your dataset,” says Daniel Murman, MD, board-certified neurologist. “For example, some of these patients might have already shown signs of Alzheimer’s before contracting COVID-19. COVID may just have brought more people to the doctor in recent years. We really don’t know.
Nevertheless, Alzheimer’s disease is unquestionably on the increase. About 6.5 million Americans over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, and that number is expected to rise to 12.7 million by 2050. Read on to find out more about how COVID-19 affects brain function and what to do if you have persistent memory. loss.
How COVID-19 affects the brain
Several mechanisms are involved during a viral infection, such as COVID-19, which may be associated with neurological disorders. When viruses and microorganisms invade your body, they can attack your nervous system. This direct infection can generate an inflammatory response throughout your body that can affect brain function.
Brain fog, or difficulty concentrating, is a long common symptom of COVID-19 and can persist for weeks. Other prolonged symptoms of COVID include cognitive impairment, fatigue, and behavioral issues — all of which can be signs of conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s disease.
Additionally, people with a history of certain medical conditions generally have a harder time with COVID-19. As a result, they may be more susceptible to developing complications, including neurological issues. Ultimately, however, we still don’t know much about how COVID-19 affects the body in the long term.
“A growing body of research suggests that COVID-19 may have short-term effects on the brain, but more research needs to be done to determine long-term effects,” says Dr. Murman.
Causes and risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease
The following factors can significantly increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Age – Most people with Alzheimer’s disease are 65 or older. After age 65, your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years. At age 85, the risk reaches almost a third, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
- Family history – If you have a family member with Alzheimer’s disease, you may be more susceptible to developing the disease. The risk increases if you have more than one family member with the disease.
- Heredity – Two categories of genes determine whether a person develops a disease: risk genes, which increase the risk of developing the disease, and deterministic genes, which cause the disease. Alzheimer’s genes were found in both categories.
- History of head trauma – There is a correlation between head injuries – such as those caused by falls or contact sports – and the future risk of dementia.
- Heart health – Some evidence links brain health to heart health since the brain is nourished by the body’s blood vessels and the heart is responsible for pumping blood through these vessels.
- Overall health – Research suggests that healthy lifestyle strategies, such as following a Mediterranean diet, exercising regularly and practicing stress management, can help keep your brain healthy.
“A healthy lifestyle makes you more resistant to many health problems, including neurological disorders,” says Dr. Murman.
The first signs of Alzheimer’s disease
The most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Memory loss that interferes with daily life
- Difficulties planning or solving problems
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Difficulty understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- Speech or writing problems
- misplace things
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and behavior
If you consistently experience any of the above signs, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your primary care provider. Your doctor may refer you to a neurologist or a specialist who treats brain diseases. Neurologists sometimes diagnose Alzheimer’s disease based on changes in behavior or responses to memory tests. They may also use diagnostic tests or brain imaging, such as MRI or CT scans, to look for structural changes. Either way, early diagnosis can help you explore treatments that can provide relief and allow you to maintain a level of independence.
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