Warning to anyone with common Covid symptom over risk of infection ‘long-term brain decline’


A COMMON Covid symptom during infection could foreshadow brain decline.

Loss of smell has affected millions globally, and currently infects around 10 per cent of cases, data suggest.

And a team of researchers from Argentina have found that those who suffer with anosmia (loss of smell) may be more likely to have cognitive impairment.

They studied hundreds of people aged between 55 to 95 years old for a year following Covid infection.

Of the 766 participants in Jujuy, Argentina, 88.4 per cent had Covid and 11.6 per cent did not (known as the control group).

Their degree of anosmia (none, mild, moderate or severe) was studied with a test in which participants had to identify three distinct smells. 

Researchers tested four areas of cognition – memory, attention, language and executive function – over the course of a year. 

Two-thirds of those who had Covid had functional memory impairment, which was severe in half of them, according to News Medical.

Some 11.7 per cent showed only problems with memory, 8.3 per cent had impairment in attention and executive function together, and 11.6 per cent had issues across all areas.

Study investigator Dr Gabriela Gonzalez-Alemán, told Medscape Medical News that the participants displayed “a predominance of memory impairment as would be seen in Alzheimer’s disease”.

A large group presented “a combination of memory and attention problems”.

None of the people in the control group had problems with their smell.

But 40 per cent of those with Covid did – and all participants with severe cognitive impairment also had anosmia.

The researchers found that the severity of anosmia, rather than severity of Covid, predicted cognitive impairment.

“Our data strongly suggest that adults over 60 years of age are more vulnerable to cognitive impairment post-Covid if they had a smell dysfunction, regardless of the severity of the Covid,” said Dr Gonzalez-Alemán.

Cognitive problems existed a year after illness, but Dr Gonzalez-Alemán added that it’s too soon to tell if it’s permanent.

Dr Claire Sexton, senior director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association, said “loss of smell is a signal of an inflammatory response in the brain”.

She added: “We know inflammation is part of the neurodegenerative process in diseases like Alzheimer’s. But we need to dig deeper into exactly how they are connected.”

William A Haseltine, an American scientist, wrote in Forbes: “Instead of disease severity, loss of smell seems a more promising avenue for predicting who develops persistent cognitive changes after SARS-CoV-2 infection. 

“As described by Dr Gonzalez-Aleman in Neurology Today, anosmia could be a sign of SARS-CoV-2 infection entering the brain through the olfactory bulb, or a sign of a continuing disease process after infection. 

“With additional research, the hope would be to more thoroughly understand this correlation and thus develop a means to prevent such brain damage.”

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