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Study: Even mild COVID-19 can cause brain to shrink in size, as well as cognitive changes

A new study by a team of researchers in the U.K. found that even mild cases of COVID-19 can affect the brain. They looked at brain changes in people between the ages of 51 and 81.

What makes this study impressive, according to Kathleen Rodgers, the associate director for the Center of Innovation in Brain Science at the University of Arizona, is that researchers were able to look at brain changes over time. That’s because they had MRIs of thousands of people from before the pandemic. 

"We're able to know what hyperintensities are problems in the brain might have been there ahead of time," she said. "That's unique, because we haven't had pre COVID imaging available yet to compare with post COVID imaging."

Rodgers also said, "A common symptom of COVID is the loss of smell, and the ability to smell things. And so they, the hypothesis was if there's going to be changes in the brain that it was going to be those regions connected with that olfactory bulb — and they found that to be true. There is shrinkage in those brain regions. They're not sure if it's due to the virus directly infecting and killing neurons or if it was due to the loss of smell, and things shrink if you don't use them."

Rodgers says they also found cognitive changes.  The study appeared in the journal Nature

KJZZ senior field correspondent 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.