COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s Disease: Ask the AFA Medical Advisory Board
Three years since a global pandemic brought the world to a standstill and introduced a multitude of questions about how the virus would impact underlying conditions, we sat down with Dr. Allison Reiss, MD, from AFA’s Medical Advisory Board to discuss the connection between COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease.
Q: “I keep hearing that some people who have had COVID have a lasting experience with brain fog. Could this end up leading to Alzheimer’s or dementia?”
A: “It is highly unlikely that COVID-19 infection is causing Alzheimer’s disease. Rather, the infection may magnify neurologic symptoms in someone who already has cognitive impairment and reveal underlying Alzheimer’s.
More severe COVID-19 with accompanying neurologic symptoms is more likely in the older population as they are more vulnerable to coronavirus. People who were under the radar and not getting medical attention may have sought care for COVID and then, once seen by healthcare professionals, received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. It is not COVID causing Alzheimer’s but rather that the undiagnosed symptoms are now being diagnosed. COVID-19 may be a second insult to a brain that has already accumulated a lot of damage and it may exacerbate some of the damage-inducing pathways and thus make Alzheimer’s symptoms worse. Also, COVID may cause problems with the oxygen level in the brain that would contribute to worsening cognition.
The effect of COVID-19 on the brain is being widely studied and researchers are looking at both short- and long-term issues. Brain fog is a debilitating long-term symptom. There are no specific treatments other than supportive care and this needs to change. Modifiable factors that may be important in delaying or preventing Alzheimer’s include a balanced diet, controlling blood sugar and blood pressure, physical activity, refraining from excess alcohol consumption and avoiding head injuries. A healthy brain requires a healthy heart and circulation, so take care of your cardiovascular system. Many people avoid too much sun exposure for health reasons and the COVID-19 pandemic kept people isolated indoors for long periods. This led to vitamin D deficiency, which is often unnoticed but easy to remedy with vitamin D rich foods or supplements. I generally believe it is better to get vitamins from food rather than pills, but vitamin D is the one possible exception. Staying engaged socially and in one’s community and lifelong learning also build reserves of brain function and flexibility.”
AFA Medical, Scientific, & Memory Screening Advisory Board member Allison Reiss, MD, is an associate professor of medicine at NYU Long Island School of Medicine and head, Inflammatory Laboratory, Biomedical Research Institute, NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island.
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