COVID-19 infection can harm the brain | Alzheimer's Prevention Registry

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April 21, 2021

COVID-19 infection can harm the brain

By Alzheimer's Prevention Bulletin

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Scientific evidence is beginning to show that COVID-19 can cause damage to the brain according to The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH). The independent collaborative of scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts just released a new report about the virus’ impact on the brain.

They found that the novel coronavirus can directly harm the brain and that isolation caused by social distancing is impacting mental well-being. The report identifies several studies that show a link between COVID-19 and diminished brain health along with recommendations help prevent it.

The research identifies a correlation between the virus and neurological problems in hospitalized patients. Even patients with mild disease have experienced brain problems. Current research suggests the body’s inflammatory response to the virus may contribute to neurological problems, but more research is needed to fully understand this.

A loss of taste and smell is the most common neurological symptom of COVID-19. The virus can also increase the risk of stroke and cause headaches, fatigue and difficulty thinking. Some people recover from these symptoms quickly while others suffer long after their infection is gone.

The virus is also causing an epidemic of isolation. With the imperative to socially distance to prevent infection, many older adults are living alone with little interaction with family and friends. This takes a toll on mental well-being and ultimately brain health.

Social isolation triggers stress that can be harmful to our brains. In fact, the virus has caused a long list of new stressors in our lives from disrupted schedules to fear of infection for ourselves and our loved ones. This long-term stress may impact our mood and ability to think clearly.

People living with dementia seem to be at higher risk for severe COVID-19. The question yet to be answered is whether the virus causes additional dementia or dementia accounts for an increase in infections. Either way, the linkage is there.  

The GCBH recommends 10 steps we can all do to support our brain health during the pandemic:

  1. Get a vaccine as soon as you are able
  2. Stay physically active
  3. Maintain a balanced diet
  4. Stay socially connected
  5. Maintain a regular sleep schedule
  6. Stimulate your brain
  7. Don’t put off necessary medical appointments
  8. Take care of your mental health
  9. Pay attention to signs of sudden confusion
  10. Monitor changes in brain health

Please consider seeking out, enrolling in, and advocating for participation in COVID-19 and brain health studies.