The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone, especially so for those with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. COVID-19 has proven to be more dangerous to people with underlying diseases and the elderly, including people with Alzheimer’s disease. This has led to scientific studies to understand this phenomenon. Here’s what we have learned so far:

Covid-19’s Impact On The Brain 

Studies have suggested that as many as 84% of people with severe cases of COVID-19 experience long-lasting neurological symptoms such as loss of taste and smell, impaired memory, and mood swings. 

Among those already suffering from cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease, COVID-19 infections have been even more serious. According to a study of over 61 million health records from Case Western Reserve University, Alzheimer’s patients were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19. While medical research continues to investigate the precise reason for this increased risk, a number of symptomatic and genetic factors have been studied and proposed.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that delirium is a “very frequent presenting symptom of SARS-CoV-2 infection” among elderly Alzheimer’s patients. The report also states that “immune response and excessive inflammation in COVID-19 may also accelerate the progression of brain inflammatory neurodegeneration,” which means those with Alzheimer’s disease may experience accelerated progression cognitive decline.

Further Research Has Found Genetic Links

Understanding the genetic risk factors of both COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease has been the focus of much scientific research, and studies conducted thus far suggest a possible connection between the two. One study, conducted by City of Hope, suggests that ApoE4, a gene known to increase one’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease, may also correlate with one’s susceptibility to and severity of COVID-19 infection. According to one of the co-authors of the study, the ApoE4 connection could also help explain “why some (e.g., ApoE4 carriers) but not all COVID-19 patients exhibit neurological manifestations.”

In fact, ApoE4 may provide further clues about severe COVID-19 infections through its association with medical conditions beyond just Alzheimer’s disease. “ApoE cluster haplotypes associate with the same morbidities from cardiovascular disease and obesity that increase vulnerability to COVID-19,” write Caleb Finch and Alexander Kulminski for the Journals of Gerontology. The fact that Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular illness and obesity each carry their own elevated risk for more severe COVID-19 infection suggests that people with the ApoE4 gene, who are susceptible to each of these risk factors are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s Amidst these Risks

If you care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you are likely aware of the many of these risks and the rapidly changing circumstances surrounding nursing facilities and hospitals  Here are some helpful tips for decreasing risk of COVID-19 provided by the Alzheimer’s Association:

  1. Get vaccinated – Many older adults across the country have already been vaccinated, which is an important  step in staying safe from infection. It is recommended that both those with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers get vaccinated, and if they are not, to continue wearing PPE and taking other safety measures to maintain and reduce infection risk.
  2. Make advanced and alternative plans – Be prepared with alternative plans for the person with Alzheimer’s disease, especially if they typically go to an adult day care or nursing facility. Arrangements can and should be modified or cancelled in response to a COVID-19 exposure. If you have an in-home caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient, find an alternative in the event that they become unavailable for a certain number of days.  
  3. Inform family, friends and other caregivers of safety precautions before visitation and make sure they follow them at all times – If the person in care is in a facility, there will most likely already be rules in place. Share this information with any visitors ahead of time. For example, consider having anyone who isn’t vaccinated take a COVID-19 test before visitation. 

Ultimately, it will take years for us to fully understand why COVID-19 has affected Alzheimer’s patients so severely. A consortium of researchers from over 30 countries — funded by the Alzheimer’s Association — will conduct research into the neurological effects of the COVID-19. By 2022, these researchers plan to have learned more about how COVID-19 affects the brain. In the meantime, we encourage caregivers, friends and family of anyone with Alzheimer’s disease to take extra care to keep them safe and healthy during this time. 

References 

1 Healthcare, G. D. (2021, January 27). Covid-19 may result in brain damage and increase the risk of dementia. Clinical trials arena. https://www.clinicaltrialsarena.com/comment/covid-19-brain-damage-dementia-risk/.

2 Meara, K. (2021, February 4). Gene Linked Between Alzheimer’s Disease and COVID-19. Contagion Live. https://www.contagionlive.com/view/gene-linked-between-alzheimer-s-disease-and-covid-19.

3 Finch, C. E., & Kulminski, A. M. (2020, August 10). ApoE Locus and COVID-19: Are We Going Where We Have Been? OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/76/2/e1/5890467.

4 Alzheimer’s Association. (n.d.). COVID-19 Vaccine: Answers for Dementia Caregivers and People Living with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/coronavirus-covid-19-vaccine.

5 Sandoiu, A. (2021, January 25). COVID-19 and the brain: What do we know so far? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-does-sars-cov-2-affect-the-brain.