Over-65s who contracted COVID are now at an alarmingly high risk for Alzheimer’s, according to new research.
The study of 6 million seniors, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that elderly individuals infected by the coronavirus were 50% to 80% more susceptible to the debilitating form of dementia within the year following their COVID diagnosis, Science Daily reported.
The highest risk was found to be in women aged 85 and older.
Researchers have not yet determined if COVID directly triggers Alzheimer’s, or if the virus merely accelerates its presence.
“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,” Pamela Davis, the study’s co-author, said.
“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,” she added.
To do so, Davis’ team analyzed anonymous health records of 6.2 million American senior citizens — with no prior Alzheimer’s diagnoses — who had medical treatment between February 2020 and May 2021. The groups were then split into those who had and had not contracted COVID; 5.8 million were in the non-infected group, while over 400,000 were in the other.
The results have been concerning to Davis, who said that a sudden uptick in Alzheimer’s “could further strain our long-term care resources.”
“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,” Davis said.
“Now, so many people in the U.S. have had COVID and the long-term consequences of COVID are still emerging,” she continued. “It is important to continue to monitor the impact of this disease on future disability.”