Covid infection can cause debilitating brain condition that causes more damage than Alzheimer’s in some elderly people, study finds
- Many elderly people who are hospitalized with Covid are developing a condition called TME, which is sometimes caused by viral infections
- People who suffer from TME as a result of Covid are showing 60% higher levels of biomarkers indicating brain damage than a person with Alzheimer’s
- Those who ended up dying from Covid displayed 124% times higher levels of the biomarkers
- Researchers are unsure of the long-term implications of their findings, but are worried about the impacts the virus has on the elderly
Being infected with Covid could cause more damage to the brain of an elderly person than developing Alzheimer’s a new study finds.
A research team from the New York University (NYU) Grossman School of Medicine found that some elderly Covid survivors may be afflicted with a condition called toxic metabolic encephalopathy (TME).
The researchers found that people who had developed the condition as a result of Covid infection were showing more severe signs of brain damage than people who had Alzheimer’s in blood screenings.
Patients who had contracted TME tested 60 percent higher on screenings to detect brain damage.
The study was conducted during the first wave of the pandemic, so whether the data is also applicable to the Omicron or Delta variants is not yet known. A virus spreading as fast Covid having such a severe side effect is a worrying prospect.
Researchers from NYU found that some elderly Covid patients had biomarkers indicating they had suffered more brain damage as a result of the virus than the average Alzheimer’s patient
Covid patients who exhibited signs of brain damage often developed a condition called toxic metabolic encephalopathy which causes inflammation of the brain and prevents the body from undergoing some basic metabolic functions
‘Our findings suggest that patients hospitalized for COVID-19, and especially in those experiencing neurological symptoms during their acute infection, may have levels of brain injury markers that are as high as, or higher than, those seen in people who have Alzheimer’s disease,’ said Dr Jennifer Frontera, lead author of the study and professor at NYU Grossman, per Study Finds.
A person can develop TME after being infected by a virus, or sometimes even after going under anesthesia for surgery.
It forms when cells in the body turn toxic and prevent the body from undergoing basic functions. It can cause severe inflammation of the brain which can cause cognitive issues.
Researchers, who published their findings last week in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, found that the condition was prevalent in many research participants who had been infected with Covid.
The team gathered data from 251 elderly people who were hospitalized with Covid during the pandemic’s first wave in spring of 2020. The study population was mixed between people who had recovered from the virus and those who died from it.
None of the recruited participants had a previous history of dementia or other cognitive conditions.
They were split into two groups based on whether they had reported neurological symptoms during their Covid bout.
Recruited participants were compared to a control group made up of patients at NYU’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Of the 161 control participants, 53 have a diagnosed case of Alzheimer’s and 54 suffer from mild cognitive impairment.
None of the members of the control group had been infected by Covid at the time of the study.
Researchers analyzed blood serum from patients in search of three blood markers that indicate a person has suffered brain damage.
They found that TME was the leading cause of brain damage among the infected group, and that those that developed the condition displayed markers that were 60 percent higher than control group members suffering from neurological symptoms.
People who ended up dying from Covid on average had 124 percent higher levels of blood markers indicating brain damage.
Researchers can not determine the long term implications of their findings. There is no link between these markers and the development of conditions like Alzheimer’s, though they fear the long term cognitive health of these people could still be harmed.
‘Traumatic brain injury, which is also associated with increases in these biomarkers, does not mean that a patient will develop Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias later on, but does increase the risk of it,’ said Dr Thomas Wisniewski, director of the Center for Cognitive Neurology at NYU and a senior author of the study, said.
‘Whether that kind of relationship exists in those who survive severe COVID-19 is a question we urgently need to answer with ongoing monitoring of these patients.’
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