Also, ICU Stay May Double Risk of Dementia in Older Adults

SAN DIEGO, July 31, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — New insights into factors that may predict, increase or protect against the impact of COVID-19 and the pandemic on memory and thinking skills were revealed by multiple studies reported today at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® (AAIC®) 2022 in San Diego and virtually.

Among the key findings reported at AAIC 2022:

  • A group from Argentina found that persistent loss of the sense of smell may be a better predictor of long-term cognitive and functional impairment than severity of the initial COVID-19 disease.
  • Hospitalization in the intensive care unit was associated with double the risk of dementia in older adults, according to a study by Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago.
  • During the pandemic, female gender, not working and lower socioeconomic status were associated with more cognitive symptoms in a large study population drawn from nine Latin American countries.
  • In that same Latin American population, experiencing a positive life change during the pandemic (such as more quality time with friends and family or spending more time in nature) reduced the negative impact of the pandemic on memory and thinking skills.

“COVID-19 has sickened and killed millions of people around the world, and for some, the emerging research suggests there are long-term impacts on memory and thinking as well,” said Heather M. SnyderPh.D., vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association. “As this virus will likely be with us for a long time, identifying the risk and protective factors for cognitive symptoms can assist with the treatment and prevention of ‘ long COVID’ moving forward.”

Persistent loss of smell better predicts cognitive impairment than severity of COVID-19

Researchers in Argentina working with the Alzheimer’s Association Consortium on Chronic Neuropsychiatric Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection followed 766 adults age 55-95 exposed to COVID-19 for one year, and conducted a series of regular physical, cognitive and neuropsychiatric tests. Of the study group, 88.4% were infected and 11.6% were controls.

Clinical assessment showed functional memory impairment in two-thirds of the infected participants, which was severe in half of them. Another group of cognitive tests identified three groups with decreased performance:

  • 11.7% showed memory-only impairment.
  • 8.3% had impairment in attention and executive function.
  • 11.6% displayed multidomain (including memory, learning, attention and executive function) impairment.

Statistical analysis revealed that persistent loss of smell was a significant predictor of cognitive impairment, but severity of the initial COVID-19 disease was not.

“The more insight we have into what causes or at least predicts who will experience the significant long-term cognitive impact of COVID-19 infection, the better we can track it and begin to develop methods to prevent it,” said Gabriela Gonzalez-AlemanLCP, Ph.D., professor at Pontificia Universidad Catolica Argentina, Buenos Aires.

A stay in the intensive care unit may signal higher dementia risk

Researchers from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center (RADC), part of Chicago’s Rush University System for Health, used data from five diverse studies of older adults without known dementia (n=3,822) to observe intensive care unit (ICU) hospitalizations. ICU hospitalizations were previously linked to cognitive impairment in older patients, but few studies have examined whether they increase risk for dementia.

They reviewed Medicare claims records from 1991 to 2018 (pre-pandemic), and checked annually for development of Alzheimer’s and all type dementia using a standardized cognitive assessment. During an average 7.8 years follow up, 1,991 (52%) participants experienced at least one ICU hospitalization; 1,031 (27%) had an ICU stay before study enrollment; and 961 (25%) had an ICU stay during the study period.

The researchers found that, in analyses adjusted for age, sex, education and race, experiencing ICU hospitalization was associated with 63% higher risk of Alzheimer’s dementia and 71% higher risk of all type dementia. In models further adjusted for other health factors such as vascular risk factors and disease, other chronic medical conditions, and functional disabilities, the association was even stronger: ICU hospitalization was associated with 110% greater risk of Alzheimer’s and 120% greater risk of all type dementia.

“We found that ICU hospitalization was associated with double the risk of dementia in community-based older adults,” said Bryan D. JamesPh.D., epidemiologist at RADC. …

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