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One of the earliest signs that COVID-19 had an impact on neurological wellbeing came during the early stages of the pandemic when patients began to experience brain fog; a sensation when the mind struggles to think clearly.
As the pandemic has progressed, and more studies have been conducted, scientists have begun to learn a great deal about the psychological impact of the virus.
Previous studies have shown COVID-19 patients face an increased risk of anxiety and depression in the two years after an infection. Furthermore, the risk of these conditions is no higher than those of other respiratory infections after two years.
However, the risk of one of the UK’s biggest killers – a deadly neurodegenerative disease – does not go down after two years according to data published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal.
The data suggests the risk of dementia continues to remain raised even two years after a COVID-19 infection. Dementia is one the UK’s deadliest foes, resulting in the deaths of 67,000 people every year.
Speaking about the research, study lead from the University of Oxford, Doctor Max Taquet said: “The findings shed new light on the longer-term mental and brain health consequences for people following COVID-19 infection.
“The results have implications for patients and health services and highlight the need for more research to understand why this happens after COVID-19, and what can be done to prevent these disorders from occurring, or treat them when they do.”
The study made its conclusions after analysis of several neurological and psychiatric diagnoses from the US. Their data found adults over the age of 65 had a greater risk of brain fog, dementia, and other psychotic disorders in the two years after an infection.
While dementia risk remains high two years after a Covid infection, the results have proven positive for those concerned about anxiety and dementia risk.
The University of Oxford’s Professor Paul Harrison added: “It is good news that the excess of depression and anxiety diagnoses after COVID-19 is short-lived, and that it is not observed in children. However, it is worrying that some other disorders, such as dementia and seizures, continue to be more likely diagnosed after COVID-19, even two years later.”
While results from the study may prove unnerving, the researchers added there were a couple of caveats to their study.
They said their study may have underrepresented self diagnosed and asymptomatic cases of COVID-19, cases which would likely not have been recorded. Furthermore, the study also did not look at the severity or length of conditions after COVID-19 and how these compare to other respiratory infections.
Why do we only have data for two years?
The reason is simple: COVID-19 has only been around two and a half years. As a result, there is no indication of dementia risk over a much longer period of time.
Should dementia risk remain the same in five, 10, or 15 years, there could be arguments to suggest that a previous
COVID-19 infection could be added to the list of risk factors for the condition.
What are the current risk factors for dementia?
While the study indicates the dementia risk rises after a Covid infection, that is not to say that Covid could cause dementia. Years, even decades, of research are required before a conclusion can be made.
Meanwhile, the main risk factors for dementia include:
• Gender and sex
• Cognitive reserve
• Health conditions and diseases
• Lifestyle factors.
Lifestyle factors include social isolation, levels of exercise, and whether or not someone consumes a healthy and balanced diet.
As well as existing risk factors listed by charities, another was recently highlighted in a recent report by the Government: air pollution.
Air pollution has long been thought by researchers to increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia; however, this has not been officially been highlighted as a risk factor by a government.
That was until a report was published by the UKHSA (United Kingdom Health Security Agency) which stated air pollution exposure was associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia onset.
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