Even among those without COVID-19, the brain health of those over 50 declined more quickly throughout the pandemic.
Major new research, published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity, linked the pandemic to chronic brain health decline, suggesting that even if an individual who was older than 50 did not have COVID-19, their brain health declined more quickly during the pandemic.
Brain health refers to the condition of the brain functioning throughout the cognitive, sensory, social-emotional, behavioral, and motor domains that enable an individual to reach their full potential. As it holds much responsibility, it is crucial to take care of brain health to ensure a healthy life.
Previous studies have shown that various factors, such as sleep, exercise, diet, and environment all play a role in brain development and health.
The outcomes of computerized brain function tests from over 3,000 UK-based participants in the online PROTECT trial, ranging in age from 50 to 90, were examined by researchers.
The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London and the University of Exeter conducted a remote study to evaluate participants' short-term memory and computational skills.
By examining the data from this large dataset, researchers discovered that the rate of brain health decline changed by 50% in the first year of the pandemic, indicating a dramatic acceleration of the deterioration. Those who experienced minor cognitive deterioration prior to the pandemic had a higher figure.
The results persisted into the pandemic's second year, indicating that its effects extended past the first year's lockdowns. The researchers think that this long-lasting effect is very pertinent to current public health and health policy.
Brain health and the pandemic
Many factors seem to have contributed to the worsening of the cognitive decline during the pandemic, such as an increase in feelings of loneliness and sadness, a decrease in physical activity, and an increase in alcohol intake.
Previous research has found that physical activity, treating existing depression, getting back into the community, and reconnecting with people, are all important ways to reduce dementia risk and maintain brain health.
"Our findings suggest that lockdowns and other restrictions we experienced during the pandemic have had a real lasting impact on brain health in people aged 50 or over, even after the lockdowns ended. This raises the important question of whether people are at a potentially higher risk of cognitive decline which can lead to dementia."- Anne Corbett, study leader
Making sure those experiencing early cognitive decline receive the assistance they need is more crucial than ever, especially because there are steps they can take to lower their chance of developing dementia in the future.
Thus, the team says the best course of action if one is worried about cognitive decline and memory complications is to schedule a visit with a doctor and have an evaluation.
Corbett ends by saying that although policymakers are preparing for a potential pandemic response, they should also take into account the broader health effects of limitations like lockdowns.
- The Lancet. Cognitive decline in older adults in the UK during and after COVID-19 pandemic: a longitudinal analysis of PROTECT study data.
- WHO. Brain Health.
- World Federation of Neurology. Introduction to Brain Health.