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The COVID-19 pandemic not only has proven especially deadly for older adults, it also has been detrimental to their brain health.
"While a COVID-19 infection itself can directly harm your brain, months of isolation can take a toll as well,” says Sarah Lenz Lock, executive director of the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), an independent collaborative of scientists, doctors and policy experts convened by AARP to provide trusted information on brain health. That's why the council has released a report on how the brain health of older adults has been affected by the pandemic and what research is needed to address the problem. Along with the latest scientific findings, the report includes tips for older adults to adopt.
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"People know that COVID-19 is a disease that affects the lungs, but they are not as aware that it can affect the brain as well. Even though there is much still to be learned about how COVID-19 affects our thinking, the GCBH wanted everyone to know this is a well-recognized problem, and emphasize that there are ways to address the health of their brain during the pandemic. The council also wanted to address some of the negative effects of the isolation that many people are experiencing,” explains council chair Marilyn Albert, professor of neurology and director of the division on cognitive neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Tip No. 1 is not surprising: Consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, and be sure to complete all required doses and keep following CDC guidelines. Doing so can protect your brain from the virus's potential neurological harm, and may well save your life — especially if you're over 65.
Here, from the council and its brain-health experts, are other ways you can keep your brain resilient during the pandemic.
What you need to know about covid-19 vaccines
Keep — or get — active
It's easy to be a couch potato these days. So many of us are spending more time at home and are not yet comfortable returning to a gym or fitness studio. But as the Global Council report stresses, physical activity is vital to maintain cognition in adults, particularly older ones. Not only have studies linked low physical activity with higher dementia risk, but regularly exercising helps boost your immune system, which may provide additional protection against COVID-19, notes Gary Small, M.D., chair of psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center. View a daily walk or other fitness activity as essential to your brain health, and also try to limit how much you sit: Adults between the ages of 45 to 75 who sit for three to seven hours each day have a substantial thinning of their temporal lobe, which is where the brain forms new memories, according to Small's own 2018 study. “This is one of the types of changes that can precede dementia,” he says.
For tips and resources on staying fit, visit AARP's "Get Moving" videos