HEALTH

Study links even mild COVID-19 to changes in the brain

Mar 7, 2022, 12:56 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 3:18 pm
...

(CNN) — Patients with even a mild case of COVID-19 may experience accelerated aging of the brain and other changes to it, according to a new study.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature, is believed to be the largest of its kind. It found that the brains of those who had COVID-19 had a greater loss of grey matter and abnormalities in the brain tissue compared with those who didn’t have COVID-19. Many of those changes were in the area of the brain related to the sense of smell.

“We were quite surprised to see clear differences in the brain even with mild infection,” lead author Gwenaëlle Douaud, an associate professor of neurosciences at the University of Oxford, told CNN in an email.

Douaud and her colleagues evaluated brain imaging from 401 individuals who had COVID-19 between March 2020 and April 2021, both before infection and an average of 4.5 months after infection. They compared the results with brain imaging of 384 uninfected individuals similar in age, socioeconomics and risk factors such as blood pressure and obesity. Of the 401 infected individuals, 15 patients had been hospitalized.

The 785 participants were between the ages of 51 and 81 were all part of the UK Biobank, an ongoing government health database of 500,000 UK participants begun in 2012.

Douaud explained that it is normal for people to lose 0.2% to 0.3% of grey matter every year in the memory-related areas of the brain as they age, but in the study evaluation, patients who had been infected with the coronavirus lost an additional 0.2% to 2% of tissue compared with those who hadn’t been infected.

In addition to imaging, the participants were also tested for their executive and cognitive function using the Trail Making Test, a tool used to help detect cognitive impairments associated with dementia and test a person’s brain processing speed and function. The authors found that those who had the greatest brain tissue loss also performed the worst on this exam.

While the areas of the brain most impacted appear to be related to the olfactory system, Douaud said it wasn’t clear why that was the case.

“Since the abnormal changes we see in the infected participants’ brains might be partly related to their loss of smell, it is possible that recovering it might lead to these brain abnormalities becoming less marked over time. Similarly, it is likely that the harmful effects of the virus (whether direct, or indirect via inflammatory or immune reactions) decrease over time after infection. The best way to find out would be to scan these participants again in one or two years’ time,” she said.

Douaud added that the researchers anticipate reimaging and testing the participants in one to two years.

 

The larger impact of brain changes

 

And while the study finds some association between infection and brain function, it’s still not clear why. Previous studies have shown people with significant and repeated loss of smell also have an associated loss of grey matter. However, this study did not evaluate whether patients actually experienced loss of smell.

The authors cautioned that the findings were only of a moment in time, but noted that they “raise the possibility that longer-term consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection might in time contribute to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.”

While the findings were noticeable, they weren’t enough to cause alarm, said Dr. Richard Isaacson, a neurologist and director of the Florida Atlantic University Center for Brain Health. Isaacson was not involved in the study.

Isaacson said the study findings were noticeable for clinicians, but he added that the overall impact on individuals was difficult to determine and could be small. “It’s really hard to know the long-term clinical impact and quality of life impact in a situation like this,” he said.

“The brain may be affected by other mechanisms such as immune, inflammatory, vascular or psychological/behavioral change but not direct infection,” said Dr. Alan Carson, a professor of neuropsychiatry at the Center for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the study.

“What this study almost certainly shows is the impact, in terms of neural changes,” he said. “But I don’t think it helps us understand the mechanisms underpinning cognitive change after COVID infection.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Health

LGBTQ teens at an Encircle activity....
Ashley Moser, KSL TV

Parents’ support key to mental health among LGBTQ+ youth, experts say

Nearly 20 percent of adults in the U.S. live with a mental health condition. In the LGBTQ+ community, that number is three times higher. Experts say family support is crucial to an adolescents’ mental health.
1 day ago
The American Heart Association added sleep duration to its cardiovascular health checklist. It's a ...
Megan Marples, CNN

Sleep duration matters for heart health, according to new recommendations

If you needed another reason to get enough sleep, here it is: It may help your heart health.
1 day ago
FILE: A woman with an  iPhone...
BARBARA ORTUTAY AP Technology Writer

EXPLAINER: Data privacy concerns emerge after Roe decision

With abortion now or soon to be illegal in over a dozen states and severely restricted in many more, Big Tech companies that collect personal details of their users are facing new calls to limit that tracking and surveillance.
1 day ago
The Biden Administration is expected to detail plans to roll out more monkeypox vaccines across the...
Brenda Goodman, CNN

US to offer monkeypox vaccines in states with high case rates

The Biden Administration announced plans to beef up its response to monkeypox on Tuesday, detailing plans to offer more vaccines and more tests to people who are most at risk of getting it — including men who have sex with men and their partners.
2 days ago
(KSL TV)...
Lauren Steinbrecher and Eliza Pace, KSL TV

Utah lawmakers put new law in place prohibiting abortion after 18 weeks

As Utah continues to have new developments in its legal battle over abortions, according to state lawmakers, another law is now in place.
2 days ago
Hundreds of protesters marched in Provo for abortion rights....
KEVIN McGILL, AMY FORLITI and GEOFF MULVIHILL Associated Press

Supreme Court’s abortion ruling sets off new court fights

Judges have temporarily blocked abortion bans in Louisiana and Utah, while a federal court in South Carolina said a law sharply restricting the procedure would take effect there immediately.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

hand holding 3d rendering mobile connect with security camera for security solutions...
Les Olson

Wondering what security solutions are right for you? Find out more about how to protect your surroundings

Physical security helps everyone. Keep your employees, clients, and customers safe with security solutions that protect your workplace.
Many rattan pendant lights, hay hang from the ceiling.Traditional and simple lighting....
Lighting Design

The Best Ways to Style Rattan Pendant Lighting in Your Home

Rattan pendant lights create a rustic and breezy feel, and are an easy way to incorporate this hot trend into your home decor.
Earth day 2022...
1-800-GOT-JUNK?

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
Study links even mild COVID-19 to changes in the brain