By Dr. Anthony Policastro

We know that COVID-19 infection can affect cognitive function. We know that infections are more severe in older individuals. We also know that for many years there has been speculation about infections in general playing a role in cognitive function in older individuals.

A group decided to look at the relation between these facts. They published their results in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in July 2022.

They looked at individuals over age 65. Of that group about 400,000 had documented COVID-19 infections over a 15 month period. They compared them to 400,000 patients that did not have COVID-19 over that same 15 month period. They then looked at new medical diagnoses within six months of the infection.

The findings showed that the likelihood of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease was about twice that for individuals with a previous COVID-19 infection than it was for individuals that did not get infected.

A little less than one percent of the group with COVID were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease over the next 360 days. That number dropped to a little less than 0.5 percent for those not diagnosed with COVID-19 infection.

As the patients got older the number of new Alzheimer diagnoses increased. By age 85 and above about two percent of patients with COVID-19 were newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The number for non-COVID-19 infected patients also went up by age. However, it seemed to remain about half of what it was for those who had been infected.

Another interesting finding was that the incidence of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis was only slightly elevated for men who had a COVID-19 infection. However, for women the risk remained about twice as high for those who had a previous COVID-19 infection.

Since this was the first study of its kind the authors ended with a conclusion that more studies were needed to support their findings. In the meantime one might ask what it means on an individual level.

I recently wrote about lifestyle changes that could decrease the possibility of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disorder. We can now add COVID-19 infection to that list. Avoiding an infection could help forestall such a diagnosis.

What that basically would suggest is those individuals over age 85 should consider getting the new COVID booster. The same thing is true for women. While the differences in diagnosis rate are small, you might be able to cut your risk in half if you avoid the infection.

COVID update- Nationally, the number of new cases dropped from 414,000 last week to 395,000 this week. Sussex County went from 273 last week to 285 this week. The numbers are pretty much unchanged.