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COVID-19 Linked to Increased Risk of New-Onset Dementia in Older Adults, Study Finds

Abstract image of dementia

In a groundbreaking study spearheaded by Dan Shan, PhD, from Columbia University, and co-authored by experts from Lancaster University, the University of Oxford, and the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging, the potential role of COVID-19 in precipitating new-onset dementia (NOD) in individuals aged 60 and older is rigorously examined. Published in a preprint and not yet peer-reviewed, the study delves into how COVID-19 infection may significantly elevate the risk of developing dementia in the subacute and chronic stages post-infection.

Utilizing a comprehensive search across multiple databases from January 2020 to December 2023, the researchers compiled data from 11 studies, encompassing nearly one million post-COVID-19 cases and over six million controls. Their meta-analysis revealed a significant association between COVID-19 infection and a heightened risk of NOD, with the risk notably spiking 12 months after infection.

The study points out that while COVID-19 survivors face an overall increased risk of developing dementia, this risk is particularly pronounced in females and patients who had severe COVID-19, as defined by the American Thoracic Society guidelines. These findings underscore the severe implications of COVID-19 beyond the immediate respiratory symptoms, highlighting the virus’s potential to cause long-term cognitive damage.

Despite the comprehensive nature of the research, the authors note limitations, including the inherent challenges of retrospective and cross-sectional studies and the variability in follow-up durations. They call for future studies to explore the impacts of multiple COVID-19 infections, vaccination status, and potential preventive and rehabilitative strategies.

The findings of this study underscore an urgent need for healthcare providers and policymakers to consider the long-term neurological impacts of COVID-19, particularly among the elderly, as part of ongoing and future pandemic response efforts.