New research studying COVID-19 patients has found that a severe infection could cause brain changes that increase an individual’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Researchers from UT Health San Antonio have followed COVID-19 patients with long-term neurological symptoms for the past year, and are presenting their findings this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.
The study aims to understand why some COVID-19 patients are experiencing cognitive problems, including issues with memory loss and thinking.
The team found younger patients are likely to suffer from COVID-induced anxiety while patients in their 60s and 70s have symptoms similar to early-onset Alzheimer’s.
In PET scans examined by the researchers, they found that COVID-19 caused changes in brain function that were also seen in people suffering from Alzheimer’s.
The researchers found that certain genes that increase a person’s risk of getting infected with a severe case of COVID-19 were also seen to increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s.
Dr Gabriel de Erasquin, a neurology professor at UT Health San Antonio, also noted that they noticed mental problems were more common in COVID-19 patients who lost their sense of smell.
“Persistent lack of smell, it’s associated with brain changes not just in the olfactory bulb but those places that are connected one way or another to the smell sense,” he said.
While most people infected with the coronavirus have mild or no symptoms, a small number suffer for months - and could be impacted for years after they recover.
Common symptoms among patients with ‘long COVID’ are brain fog, memory problems, and fatigue, along with other neurological issues.
According to one study, up to a third of COVID patients show these symptoms - even after they appear to have recovered from the virus.
Scientists are now concerned that these long-term neurological symptoms could lead to worse conditions later in life.
The findings come as US President Joe Biden earlier this month announced new guidance that protects people suffering from long-term effects of COVID-19 from discrimination. The government will provide them access to necessary resources, such as long-term services and support programs for people with disabilities.
“We’ve made important progress, but we still have work to do. We have to keep going to ensure that every single American has a chance to contribute their talents and thrive and succeed,” Biden said, according to CNN.
It is currently unknown how many people are suffering the long-term effects of COVID-19.