Studies: COVID tied to persistent cognitive deficits in seniors

Authors: Mary Van Beusekom | News Writer | CIDRAP News  | Jul 30, 2021

New studies show an association between COVID-19 and cognitive impairment in older patients, with one reporting memory problems and worse physical health 8 months after diagnosis and others finding cognitive decline and accelerated Alzheimer’s disease symptoms as long as 6 months after infection.

Memory problems, worse physical health

University of Oslo researchers led the first study, published yesterday in JAMA Network Open. It involved 9,705 nonhospitalized adults in Norway who had been either tested for SARS-CoV-2 at four large labs from Feb 1 to Apr 15, 2020, or randomly selected (untested). At that time, nearly all COVID-19 testing in Norway was in symptomatic patients. Participants, who completed the RAND 36-Item Health Survey, were, on average, 47 years old, and 66% were women.

After an average follow-up of 257 days after a baseline survey, 72 of the 651 COVID-19–positive respondents (11%) said they had memory problems, compared with only 254 of 5,712 (4%) of those who tested negative for infection and 80 of 3,342 untested participants (2%).

A multiple logistic regression model showed that SARS-CoV-2 positivity at baseline was strongly linked to memory deficits at 8 months follow-up, compared with the untested group (odds ratio, 4.66).

At the same time, 267 of 649 participants (41%) in the COVID-19–positive group reported that their health had substantially deteriorated over the previous year, and 59 of the 267 (82%) who reported memory impairment also said their health had worsened. Eighty-one of 651 positive respondents (12%) said they had difficulty concentrating. Similar numbers of patients in the three different groups reported depression, lack of energy, and pain.

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