A new study suggests that the Covid pandemic may have affected brain health in people aged 50 and older in the UK. More than three thousand volunteers participated in the study, which showed a decline in cognitive function regardless of Covid infection. Factors such as stress, loneliness, and alcohol consumption could contribute to the decline. The memory decline continued into the second year of the pandemic, with the worst results in people with pre-existing memory problems.
- Research suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic may have led to decreased brain power in people aged 50 and older, regardless of whether they were infected with the virus;
- Factors such as stress, loneliness, alcohol consumption, and lack of exercise may have contributed to this decline.
Impact of the pandemic on cognitive health
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the cognitive health of over-50s in the UK may be greater than previously thought. Researchers from the University of Exeter and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London published these findings.
The study found that cognitive functions and working memory deteriorated faster in older people during the pandemic, regardless of whether they were infected with Covid-19 or not. This could be due to factors exacerbated by the pandemic, such as insufficient exercise and excessive alcohol consumption, as well as loneliness and depression.
The researchers analyzed the brain function tests of 3,142 people who participated in the Protect Study, originally launched in 2014 to understand the brain function of people over 40 over 25 years. The participants, who were aged between 50 and 90 and lived in the UK, were evaluated based on data collected from March 2019 through February 2022.
The analysis showed that the rate of cognitive decline accelerated in the first year of the pandemic, and was higher in people who already showed signs of mild cognitive decline before the Covid-19 outbreak. This pattern continued in the second year of the pandemic, suggesting an impact beyond the initial national lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, according to the researchers.
Professor Anne Corbett, research leader and professor of dementia research at the University of Exeter, said the findings suggest that the lockdowns and other impairments experienced during the pandemic had a lasting impact on the brain health of people aged 50 and older, even after the lockdowns ended.
This raises the important question of whether people may be at higher risk for cognitive decline that could lead to dementia. She added that “now more than ever” it is important to ensure that people who show signs of early cognitive decline are supported.
All in all, the research suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic may have had a significant impact on the cognitive health of older adults, regardless of whether they were infected with the virus or not. Although more research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of the pandemic on brain health, these findings highlight the importance of careful monitoring of people at risk during major events such as a pandemic.