Dementia and cognitive impairment may increase risk of severe COVID-19, reveals study


The study conducted on over 50,000 people in the UK found that the most significant and consistent risk factors of COVID-19 included dementia and cognitive disorders. This risk was only seen in individuals older than 70 years of age

Dementia and cognitive impairment may increase risk of severe COVID-19, reveals study

A visualisation of the COVID-19 virus. Image courtesy Fusion Medical Animation

COVID-19 has affected more than 4.4 crore people in the world till date. From what is known so far, the elderly, the immunocompromised people, and those with comorbidities are at high risk of developing severe complications due to the virus.

Now, a group of researchers at the University of Georgia say that dementia and cognitive impairment are also risk factors for severe COVID-19. The findings of the study are published in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity.

The study

For the study, the researchers took data from the UK Biobank (UKB), which is a large population-based prospective study established for the detailed investigation of both the genetic and non-genetic determinants of diseases in middle and old age adults.

More than 50,000 people between the age of 40-69 years were recruited into the UKB study between 2006 and 2010. After excluding any dead participants and those out of England, a total of 3,89,620 people were included in the latest study. Beginning from March, the UKB had started adding data related to COVID-19.

For the latest study, COVID-19 results from March to May 2020 were included. During this time, the tests were only being done for hospitalised and severely-ill patients. About 3,884 of all the included people were tested during the given duration, out of which 1,091 tested positive.

Next, the researchers examined the association between COVID-19 and a list of about 30 biomarkers and 974 health conditions. They also tested the association of genetic variants of two genes — ACE2 and TMPRSS2 — associated with the infection.

The results

Among all the UKB patients, those who tested positive for COVID-19 were older, male and had a higher body mass index. They were also current or former smokers.

Multiple health conditions including diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and general cognitive disorders were found to be risk factors for severe disease. The most significant and consistent risk factors included dementia and cognitive disorders. This risk was only seen in individuals older than 70 years of age. In the group younger than 70 years there weren’t a significant number of people with dementia or cognitive decline. Nonetheless, the researchers indicated that cognitive disabilities increase the risk of severe COVID-19 in all age groups. 

Lack of self-care and frequent interactions with caregivers were suggested to be some of the possible causes of this risk.

Interestingly, previous studies done in Italy and China had shown higher mortality in COVID-19 patients with dementia, impaired consciousness and cerebrovascular diseases. Many patients also develop neurological conditions after they get SARS-CoV-2 infection. Though scientists still don’t know if these symptoms are due to the viral infection itself or a side effect of inflammation caused due to the infection.

It was also found that genetic variants of both ACE2 and TMPRSS2 can affect the susceptibility of a person and indirectly affect pre-existing medical conditions. TMPRSS2 variants had a stronger effect on the risk of COVID-19.

Decreased HDL (good cholesterol) and Apolipoprotein-A (protein involved in the transportation and metabolism of lipids) levels and increased triglycerides were also found to be associated with multiple neurological conditions including headache syndromes, peripheral nerve disorder, migraine, toxic neuropathy, sleep apnea, and sleep disorders along with a higher risk of COVID-19.

For more information, read our article on COVID-19

Health articles in Firstpost are written by, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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