COVID-19’s Potential Effect on Dementia Risk: James E. Galvin, MD, MPH


The director of the Comprehensive Center for Brain Health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine discussed the current understanding of COVID-19 and its associations with cognitive decline and Alzheimer disease.

"There’s rampant COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] in adults and asthma in children because of the particulate air pollution. We know that COPD may be a risk factor for Alzheimer disease. COPD accelerating COVID, both together, may contribute to worsening outcomes in terms of Alzheimer disease.”

Much has been learned about COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic; however, questions remain about the long-term impact of the virus. Specific neurological symptoms previously documented in people with COVID-19 include loss of smell, inability to taste, muscle weakness, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, dizziness, confusion, delirium, seizures, and stroke. Although there is a consensus that these can occur, experts do not know how the virus causes such neurological symptoms.

The knowledge of COVID-19 and its associations with cognition, Alzheimer disease (AD) and other related dementias, is relatively limited at this point. Pooled data from 3 presentations at the 2021 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, July 26-30, found the virus to be associated with persistent cognitive deficits, including the acceleration of AD pathology and symptoms. One such study conducted by Thomas Wisniewski, MD, and colleagues, found higher levels of certain biological markers, including total tau, neurofilament light, and phosphorylated tau, in COVID-19 patients with toxic-metabolic encephalopathy compared to those without.

James Galvin, MD, MPH, noted that as systems within the body fail, they affect brain function, which could potentially be the case for patients with COVID-19. Galvin, director of the Comprehensive Center for Brain Health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, also stressed that there could be subacute effects on cognition that stem from the increased social isolation and lack of intrapersonal connections. He sat down with NeurologyLive to provide thoughts on what we currently know about COVID-19 and its long-term effects, the realism behind whether the virus causes AD, and how it has affected different age groups.

COVID-19 associated with long-term cognitive dysfunction, acceleration of Alzheimer’s symtpoms. News release. Alzheimer’s Association. July 29, 2021. Accessed September 1, 2021.
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