AARP Eye Center
A year and a half into the pandemic, we now know that COVID-19 is so much more than a respiratory illness. Yes, it can ravage the lungs, but it can also damage the kidneys, weaken the heart and even affect the brain.
In fact, one study found that as many as 1 in 3 COVID-19 survivors experience a mental health or neurological disorder within six months of a coronavirus infection. Another study discovered that about half of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 had altered brain function or structure.
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"We were so alarmed about the emerging evidence of COVID-19's short- and long-term impacts on the brains of older adults that AARP convened experts from the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), who issued a special report earlier this year,” said Sarah Lenz Lock, senior vice president for policy and brain health at AARP. “The GCBH issued 10 recommendations on what to do right now to try to minimize the harms, but we also urgently called for research to fill 11 areas of knowledge gaps.”
Research to close those gaps is starting to come in, and several studies on the subject were highlighted July 29 at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference. They showed that COVID-19 may accelerate dementia or cause dementia-like symptoms in some older adults.
"COVID is a global pandemic that we're continuing to face. Alzheimer's is, too, and really understanding both of them, individually, but also how they may be linked is incredibly important,” Heather M. Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer's Association, told AARP.
Signs of brain injury in some COVID patients
In one featured study, researchers in New York took plasma samples from 310 patients age 60 and older who were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic. About half of the patients in this sample (152) didn't have neurological symptoms associated with their illness; the others (158 patients) did.