COVID-19 Infection in Older Individuals Increases Their Risk for Alzheimer’s

There have been 97.1 million documented cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and it is estimated that the actual number of people who have contracted the virus is much higher. While over a million people who contracted COVID-19 died as a result of the disease, the vast majority of Americans who’ve contracted COVID-19 have since recovered.

Unfortunately, there are a number of long-term issues associated with COVID-19 infection that can persist long after the virus is gone and the initial symptoms have passed. These long-term COVID-19 symptoms and post-COVID conditions are known collectively as “long COVID”, and we are still in the process of discovering all the long-term problems that COVID-19 infection can potentially cause. Now, new research has shown that COVID-19 infection in older individuals puts them at a much higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia that causes the death of brain cells and brain cell connections. This leads to memory loss, confusion, cognitive decline, and, eventually, loss of motor function and death. In the United States, Alzheimer’s disease is the 7th leading cause of death, and Alzheimer’s accounted for 121,499 deaths in the US in 2019. 90% of people are over the age of 65 when they develop Alzheimer’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease that develops before the age of 65 is known as early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

While there are several risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease – with age being the biggest by far – one factor that research had already shown to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s was prior viral infections. This is the reason why researchers set out to explore the link between COVID-19 infection and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Link Between COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s Disease

To explore the link between COVID-19 infection and the development of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers examined data from more than 6 million patients aged 65 and older. 400,000 of these patients had been previously diagnosed with COVID-19, while the remaining patients had never been infected with the virus.

Within a year of contracting COVID-19, 0.68% of patients in the COVID-19 study group had developed Alzheimer’s disease. Over the same time period, only 0.35% of patients in the non-infected control group developed Alzheimer’s disease. This seems to suggest that COVID-19 infection in individuals aged 65 and older increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease within a year by anywhere from 50-80%.

However, researchers remain unsure of the exact link between COVID-19 infection and Alzheimer’s disease, and they aren’t sure whether infection triggers new development of the disease or just accelerates its emergence.

“The factors that play into the development of Alzheimer’s disease have been poorly understood, but two pieces considered important are prior infections, especially viral infections, and inflammation,” said the study’s co-author Pamela Davis. “Since infection with SARS-CoV2 has been associated with central nervous system abnormalities including inflammation, we wanted to test whether, even in the short term, COVID could lead to increased diagnoses.”

This concerning link between COVID-19 infection and Alzheimer’s risk suggests that an increase in new Alzheimer’s cases could be on the near horizon. “If this increase in new diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease is sustained, the wave of patients with a disease currently without a cure will be substantial, and could further strain our long-term care resources,” Davis said. “Alzheimer’s disease is a serious and challenging disease, and we thought we had turned some of the tide on it by reducing general risk factors such as hypertension, heart disease, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle. Now, so many people in the U.S. have had COVID and the long-term consequences of COVID are still emerging. It is important to continue to monitor the impact of this disease on future disability.”

Schedule an Appointment for COVID-19 Testing With St. Jude Labs

As we continue to learn about the long-term effects of COVID-19 infection, the importance of both vaccination and COVID-19 testing becomes all the more apparent. At St. Jude Labs, we offer PCR and antibody testing with an industry-leading 24-36 hour turnaround time. To schedule an appointment for COVID-19 testing from St. Jude Labs, feel free to contact us today.

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