We know by now that COVID-19 disproportionately affects adults 65 years and older, who are more likely to have severe outcomes. Older adults account for up to nearly two thirds of hospital admissions in the United States due to the coronavirus. On top of this, measures implemented to slow the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and no-visitor policies disproportionately impact older people, many of whom rely on others for their well-being.
While lifesaving procedures in the ICU and social distancing measures are vitally important, they may lead to long-term consequences for our older population: specifically, a rising wave of dementia in the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is directly relevant to the cognitive health of the aging brain in a number of ways, including the effects of the disease, treatments, and current society. Fortunately, there are promising strategies that can help mitigate this increased risk in older adults:
We need more research on how COVID-19 may affect the brain. Early results have shown that COVID-19 may cause brain effects such as encephalopathy, similar to the 2002 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which showed seizures and brain tissue injury. Moreover, COVID-19 causes respiratory failure, which is linked to increased risk of dementia due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. Encouragingly, agencies have already started prioritizing research on the brain effects of COVID-19, including the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.
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