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

Samantha Hansen poses for a portrait at her home in Herriman, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. Hansen, a ...
KSL TV

Utah sisters disagree passionately about new abortion bill

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep Kera Birkeland, a Republican representing Morgan, has introduced HB-297 that she claims addresses the issues of abortion access and services for rape victims in Utah the Deseret News reported Friday. Read the full story here. Her sister, Samantha Hansen, is a rape survivor. She says she will fight the bill […]
1 day ago
Doctors work on a liver transplant at Intermountain Health hospital...
Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com 

Intermountain Health breaks organ transplant record again

SALT LAKE CITY — Intermountain Health announced Tuesday that it broke its own record for adult organ transplants during 2022, reaching 300 donations KSL.com reported. The organization thanked its donors and caregivers in a statement Tuesday for a fourth record-breaking year for the transplant program. Organ transplants last year included 104 livers, 159 kidneys, 29 […]
4 days ago
File image of swimming pool (KSL TV)...
Michael Houck and Shara Park

Dozens of Salt Lake County public swimming pools closed due to safety concerns

About 150 public pools in Salt Lake County will shut down after not meeting updated state safety requirements.
5 days ago
Rose Tonti, 101,Mary Kawakami, 110, Hal Edison, 103, and King Green, 100. (KSL-TV)...
Annie Knox and Ashley Moser

Four Utah centenarians share advice collected over more than 100 years

An immigrant, a World War II veteran, an avid outdoorsman and an entrepreneur. They all spoke with KSL recently, but that’s not all they have in common. Each is over 100 years old. And with all that life experience, they have some insight to share.
6 days ago
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 18: U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks during the United States Conf...
Allison Gordon and Pamela Brown

Surgeon General says 13 is ‘too early’ to join social media

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says he believes 13 is too young for children to be on social media platforms.
6 days ago
...
Ayanna Likens

Tips to set realistic mental health goals

If you are planning on setting a goal to prioritize your mental health this year, Dr. Kristin Francis at Huntsman Mental Health Institute recommends starting with small goals.
8 days ago

Sponsored Articles

vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Study links even mild COVID-19 to changes in the brain