COVID Raises Alzheimer’s Risk in Seniors

Although a growing number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 have still contracted the virus, there is still strong evidence to get the bivalent booster shot when it becomes available this fall.  Adults over the age of 65 especially may soon want to schedule their boosters as new research emerges linking COVID-19 infection with a significantly higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease within a year. 

According to a large study out of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, older people who were infected with COVID-19 had as high as a 50 to 80 percent greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s than a control group. Women over 85 were at the greatest risk for developing the disease over a one-year period following infection. 

The factors that trigger the onset of Alzheimer’s are not clearly understood but SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is associated with nervous system inflammation that is believed to contribute to an increased rate of Alzheimer’s diagnosis among older patients who have recovered from the virus.   The study analyzed the electronic health records of 6.2 million American adults over the age of 65 who received medical treatment between February 2020 and May 2021 and had no prior diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. 

The spike in new Alzheimer’s diagnoses, a disease that currently has no cure, is concerning for researchers as the older population continues to swell with the aging of the baby boomer generation, putting greater strain on health and long-term care resources.  In addition to getting all recommended vaccinations, older adults can help lower their risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease by staying active, eating a healthy diet, remaining socially engaged and controlling chronic conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes while maintaining a healthy body weight. 

In prior research led by CWRU, studies found that people with dementia are twice as likely to contract COVID-19 and those with substance disorders have a greater risk for contracting the disease.  Of people who took the antiviral Paxlovid for the treatment of COVID symptoms, 5 percent experienced rebound infections within a month.