New findings show that loss of smell due to COVID-19 and intensive care unit hospitalisation may increase the risk of cognitive impairment


During this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), researchers presented new findings about COVID-19 and its link to cognitive impairment. A first study, looking at 766 adults aged 55 to 95, reported that two-thirds of individuals who had been infected with COVID-19 exhibited functional memory problems. In particular, impairments were identified in memory for 11.7% of the individuals, in attention and executive function for 8.3%, and in multiple domains (i.e., memory, learning, and attention) in 11.6%. An important finding of the study was that persistent loss of smell was a better predictor of cognitive impairment than the severity of the COVID-19 infection. A second study revealed that intensive care unit hospitalisation was associated with a 71% higher likelihood of developing dementia over a follow-up period of 7.8 years on average. In people with vascular problems, other types of chronic health conditions and functional disabilities, the associated risk of all type-dementia was 120% higher. The final study, conducted in both the US and Latin America identified several life changes and demographic characteristics associated with cognitive impairment during the first stages of the pandemic. Female gender, lack of employment, lower socioeconomic status, and negative life changes (e.g., economic difficulties and low social contact), were all independently associated with a higher risk of cognitive problems. Nonetheless, the experience of one positive life change during the pandemic, such as spending time with friends or in nature, was identified as a way of limiting the negative consequences of these negative life changes or demographic characteristics on cognition. These findings open new avenues for identifying and developing prevention methods to limit the impacts of COVID-19 infections and lockdowns on cognitive status and dementia.