New Delhi: A recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that older people who were infected with COVID-19 show a substantially higher risk (as much as 50% to 80%) of developing Alzheimer’s disease within a year.
The study findings from more than six million patients 65 years and older showed that the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease in older people nearly doubled (0.35% to 0.68%) over a one-year period following infection with COVID.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die. It is the most common cause of dementia — a continuous decline in thinking, behavioural and social skills that affect a person’s ability to function independently.
The research also stated that it is unclear whether COVID-19 triggers new development of Alzheimer’s disease or accelerates its emergence. On the occasion of World Alzheimer’s Day, ETHealthworld’s Rashmi Mabiyan connected with neurologists to get a better understanding of the causative factors in the rise of Alzheimer’s cases during the COVID era.
There have been an increasing number of elderly people with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease post COVID, agreed Dr Praveen Gupta, Principal Director of Neurology at Fortis Memorial Research Institute (FMRI). “There may be an increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s in elderly people post COVID as it leads to subtle brain damages because of either lack of oxygen, alteration in blood pressure, causing many strokes, seizures, or just because of the significant psychological morbidity that it imposes on elderly people.”
Elaborating on other probable causes behind the rise, Dr Gupta stated, “COVID led to significant confinement and isolation of elderly people in their homes, which broke down their social and cultural ties, which prevented a lot of Alzheimer’s people from accessing mentally stimulating activities, doing behaviour therapies, doing socio-cultural therapies, which meant that because of this isolation, insecurity and confinement, these symptoms of a lot of dementia patients have got worse post COVID.”
It is important to note that due to the fear of COVID contraction, the elderly were also confined to homes which have had a negative on their memory and behaviour, apart from delay in diagnosis.
Challenges of ‘Right and Timely Diagnosis’
In India, dementia affects an estimated four million people and this figure is expected to quadruple by 2030. In order to manage the growing cases, sufficient measures towards timely diagnosis are imperative but are majorly lacking, inform experts.
Highlighting that even now the awareness of Alzheimer’s is not widespread, Dr Gupta said, “A lot of elderly people who start to get memory difficulties are not evaluated in the early stages, because we regard forgetfulness or becoming mentally less functional as normal with age. If a lot of these people were to be evaluated at the right time before they develop advanced dementia and are three to four years into the disease, we could possibly medically help them better. Early diagnosis allows us to be able to treat these people in the window of opportunity.”
Agreeing on the same, Dr Jyoti Sehgal, Associate Director- Neurology, Institute of Neurosciences, Medanta Hospital mentioned, “Awareness of Alzheimer’s is sadly lacking. It’s also worth noting that people who exhibit symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease frequently seek treatment from a psychiatrist rather than a neurologist.”
Elaborating on the methodology of diagnosis, Dr Sehgal said, “The goal of diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease is to understand the factors affecting the brain’s cognitive decline. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is made in person after a detailed history is taken and the patient is clinically examined to look for the onset of any condition. After proper diagnosis, a few medications can slow down the curve for the progression of the disease in the patient. If diagnosed early a variety of behavioural modifications, physical exercise regimes and some medical therapies can be instituted to slow the progression of the disease. ”
Coping methodology for patients with Alzheimer’s disease
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease however there are medicines and behaviour modifications available that help in slowing the progression and symptoms.
Underlining the same, Dr Sehgal explained, “Alzheimer’s if diagnosed early, a variety of behavioural modifications, physical exercise regimes and some medical therapies can be instituted to slow the progression of the disease.”
Elucidating on the major evolutions that have taken place in the management of dementia, Dr Gupta stated, “There are multiple tests that can help us in the evaluation of patients with memory loss at an older age, and reaching the differential diagnosis of dementia. There are multiple medicines which can help to decrease the rate of decline and multiple therapies like Behaviour Therapy, yoga and meditation that can actually help in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and reducing caregiver burden.”
Experts urged that there is a need to counsel both patients and caregivers on how to control and manage conditions such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Today, there are centres that engage people in activities that help them build their cognitive thinking and ability to participate in brain activities that will benefit them in the long run.
The COVID pandemic has undoubtedly impacted our elderly population, and the onset of Alzheimer’s has made it more difficult for them. The only way to help is to make life easier for the patients by creating an environment that cares for their daily needs and bringing progressive change through awareness.