KEY POINTS

  • Severe COVID-19 patients could experience problems with memory and thinking
  • Younger coronavirus patients could develop anxiety and depression
  • It is currently unknown how many people suffer from long-term effects of COVID-19

New research studying patients who suffered from COVID-19 found that a severe infection could cause brain changes that increase an individual’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

A group of researchers at UT Health San Antonio are working on a study that aims to understand why some COVID-19 patients are experiencing cognitive problems, including issues with memory and thinking.

In PET scans examined by the researchers, they found that the novel coronavirus caused changes in brain function that were also seen in people suffering from Alzheimer’s. Certain genes that increase a person’s risk of getting infected with a severe case of COVID-19 were also seen to increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s, NPR reported.

Dr. Gabriel de Erasquin, a neurology professor at UT Health San Antonio, also noted that they noticed mental problems were more common in COVID-19 patients who lost their sense of smell.

"Persistent lack of smell, it's associated with brain changes not just in the olfactory bulb but those places that are connected one way or another to the smell sense," he said. 

Younger patients around the age of 30 were more likely to develop anxiety and depression, while patients in their 60s and 70s suffered from forgetfulness, a symptom similar to that of Alzheimer’s.

The San Antonio researchers are expected to present their recent findings at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

The findings come as President Joe Biden on Monday announced new guidance that protects people suffering from long-term effects of COVID-19 from discrimination. The government will provide them access to necessary resources, such as long-term services and support programs for people with disabilities. 

"We've made important progress, but we still have work to do. We have to keep going to ensure that every single American has a chance to contribute their talents and thrive and succeed," Biden said, according to CNN

It is currently unknown how many people are suffering the long-term effects of COVID-19. It is also unclear what the symptoms of “long COVID” are. However, signs may include shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of taste, loss of smell, difficulty thinking, and racing heart. Symptoms may also include infertility and sexual dysfunction, according to The Conversation. 

Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, is thought to affect 50 million people worldwide and usually starts after age 65 Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, is thought to affect 50 million people worldwide and usually starts after age 65 Photo: AFP / Philippe LOPEZ