Coronavirus cases in the UK surpassed a grim milestone yesterday by topping 60,000 for the first time. While governments and public health officials alike grapple with the immediate threat, elsewhere, researchers are exploring the longer-term effects of COVID-19.
The prevalence of symptoms such as loss of smell and taste, and informal reports of “brain fog”, suggest there is a clear connection between COVID-19 and brain dysfunction.
In fact, a review of what’s currently known about the connection between COVID and cognition has been published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
The connection is prompting researchers to investigate whether a link can be established between COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.
To provide more substance, the Alzheimer’s Association and representatives from more than 30 countries — with technical guidance from the World Health Organization — have formed an international consortium to study the short- and long-term consequences of SARS-CoV-2 on the brain, including the underlying biology that may contribute to Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
History suggests the link is entirely plausible.
History and multiple lines of evidence suggest that viral infections may impact a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other brain disorders, whether directly or indirectly.
The 1918 flu, SARS and MERS have been connected to memory impairment, sleep disruption, anxiety and psychosis.
In some individuals, SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that leads to COVID disease – triggers a massive release of inflammation signals leading to blood brain barrier dysfunction, which can promote neuro-inflammation and brain cell death.
These factors are all known to play a key role in risk and progression of Alzheimer’s.
How do I know if I have COVID-19?
The main symptoms of coronavirus are:
- A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
- A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal.
According to the NHS, most people with coronavirus have at least one of these symptoms.
How to respond
If you have any of the main symptoms of coronavirus, get a test to check if you have coronavirus as soon as possible.
You and anyone you live with should stay at home and not have visitors until you get your test result – only leave your home to have a test.
Anyone in your support bubble should also stay at home if you have been in close contact with them since your symptoms started or during the 48 hours before they started.
A support bubble is where someone who lives alone (or just with their children) can meet people from one other household.
Use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service if:
- You’re worried about your symptoms
- You’re not sure what to do.