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New Report Looks At COVID-19 And The Negative Effects On Brain Health

More evidence is emerging that COVID-19 can have a negative impact on brain health.  A new report from the AARP Global Council on Brain Health looks at the ways the virus can attack gray matter. 

Dr. Jessica Langbaum is the co-director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. She is also a member of the council that produced the report. 

"And we issued this report on the impact of COVID-19 on brain health, although there's so much we don't know, and there's so much more research that is needed," she said. "We felt it was really important that we get the word out to the public about what we do and don't know."

She says we do know that the body can launch a massive inflammatory response to try to fight off COVID.

"And we think that it's that inflammatory response that likely is, then resulting in these neurological problems that people are experiencing as a result of COVID," she said.

Langbaum says it's that inflammation, more so than the virus itself, that could potentially harm the brain. 

"That's what we're seeing from initial autopsy studies that most brains don't have measurable amounts of COVID-19 in the brain."

But she says we don’t know why some people are more susceptible than others. And if it could lead to long-term health impacts. The report also found the virus took a significant toll on people living with dementia. 

"COVID-19 has both direct and indirect effects on the brain health," she said. "We know that there's neurological symptoms, that people with dementia are more likely to develop COVID and die from COVID. This is really quite real. There's also those indirect effects that people are isolated, they're putting off medical appointments, they are not perhaps exercising, and eating, and all those things that we know are important to brain health."

Langbaum said there's going to be a need for long-term studies, so researchers can understand what happens to the brain if a person is infected in their younger years and if that infection puts them at greater risk for something more serious like dementia.  

Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.