According to a group representing over 100 Alzheimer’s and dementia associations worldwide, the world may be unprepared for an impending wave of dementia and the additional cases that Covid-19 may bring.
Alzheimer’s Disease International is urging the World Health Organization and governments worldwide to “urgently accelerate research on the potential impact of COVID-19 on rising dementia rates.”
According to the report, the pandemic could result in a significant increase in the number of dementia patients in the long run, as some research has shown that Covid infections can increase a person’s likelihood of developing dementia and cause dementia symptoms to appear earlier. Dementia is a general term for a brain deterioration that impairs memory, thoughts, behavior, and emotion. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, and there is no cure for it at the moment.
In the short term, “dementia rates may drop temporarily as a result of the high number of dementia deaths caused by COVID-19, with between 25 and 45 percent of all COVID-19 deaths estimated to be of those with dementia,” the London-based group said in a media release Wednesday.
However, the number of people with dementia “could rise significantly due to the neurological impact of COVID-19” in the long run, according to the study. According to official data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, more than 217 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported since the coronavirus first emerged in China in late 2019. Over 18 million have been detected in the last 28 days.
The actual number of Covid cases worldwide is most likely greater than what has been reported. This is due in part to factors such as a lack of testing to detect infections and a lack of capacity to report cases.
More research into the link between Covid dementia is needed, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI).
“Many dementia experts around the world are deeply concerned by the link between dementia and the neurological symptoms of COVID-19,” said ADI CEO Paola Barbarino.
The group’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Panel, comprised of global dementia experts, has formed a working group to investigate that link and make recommendations on how to address the issue.
Dr. Alireza Atri, a cognitive neurologist and the advisory panel’s chair, expressed “special concern” about the effects of the so-called long Covid. This includes symptoms like loss of taste and smell, “brain fog” or a loss of mental clarity, as well as difficulties with concentration, memory, and thinking, he explains. Covid, according to Atri, director of the Banner Sun Health Research Institute in the United States, can damage and clot micro vessels in the brain, harm the body’s immunity, and cause inflammation.
According to the doctor, this can lead to “easier access to things that can harm your brain” and cause symptoms of neurological disorders, such as dementia, to appear earlier.
According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 50 million people worldwide who have dementia, with nearly 10 million new cases diagnosed each year.
Even before Covid-19, ADI predicted that dementia cases would increase from 55 million to 78 million by 2030. According to the group, the annual costs of dementia, including medical care and expenses, could reach $2.8 trillion.
“We urge the WHO, governments, and research institutions worldwide to prioritize and commit more funding to research and establish resources in this space, in order to avoid being further overwhelmed by the oncoming dementia pandemic,” Barbarino said.
According to Barbarino, a better understanding of the link between Covid and dementia can help authorities manage the increased prevalence of dementia and identify symptoms as early as possible.
“Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of dementia allows people to seek additional information, advice, and support, potentially leading to a diagnosis,” she explained.
“We need people to be aware of the potential link between long-term COVID and dementia so they can self-monitor for symptoms and catch it early.”