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Long Covid Can Cause Memory Problems. Does it Raise Alzheimer's Risk?

By: Kaitlin Sullivan (See original article from NBC Here)

New research shows how the coronavirus continues to affect the brain, even long after the virus is gone.

By: Kaitlin Sullivan (See original article from NBC Here)

When Rachel Bean tested positive for Covid-19 on May 1, 2020, her case was labeled asymptomatic. She had been short of breath for a couple of weeks before but passed it off as pandemic anxiety and getting used to wearing a mask. But throughout the coming months, the symptoms rolled in.

By July, despite testing negative for the virus, Bean, 34, of Minneapolis, was struggling to eat after losing her sense of taste and smell. She had heart palpitations. The symptoms came and went, and by January, Bean had to take a three-month leave from her job at a harm reduction housing program. She enrolled in a post-Covid research clinic, where she worked with a bevy of therapists to regain some of the fine motor skills she had lost and underwent a battery of cognitive tests that revealed that she was processing information more slowly than before. Full coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic Now, more than a year after her mild case, Bean still makes mistakes when she's driving. She forgets names and occasionally finds herself putting frozen food in the kitchen cabinet. When she speaks, she often has to ask people to rattle off the names of everyday items that she struggles to remember.

The symptoms are similar to those of a disease that's been around much longer than Covid-19: Alzheimer's.

Researchers are just beginning to piece together how Covid-19 affects the body long-term, but it's clear that the disease causes lasting cognitive impairment in some people, including those who have had mild cases. Whether the changes have any links to Alzheimer's is a topic of research presented Thursday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Denver. One study found that loss of smell appears to be tied to symptoms related to cognitive function. Another found that some of the same biomarkers that indicate brain damage and Alzheimer's disease also appear in Covid patients with memory loss.

"We don't know if Covid-19 is causing Alzheimer's disease," said Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer's Association. "What we do see is that some people who have had Covid-19 and experience persistent changes, like loss of smell, also have persistent changes in their memory and markers of brain disease and injury. We need to continue to follow these patients to determine what the long-term impact looks like and whether it worsens, stays the same or gets better and why." Long-term cognitive symptoms from Covid-19 appear to differ with age. Depression, anxiety and sleep trouble are more common among young people, and memory loss and speech impairment are more common in people over age 65, said Dr. Gabriel de Erausquin, director of the Laboratory of Brain Development, Modulation and Repair at the Glenn Biggs Institute of Alzheimer's and Neurodegenerative Disorders in San Antonio.

According to one of the new studies presented Thursday, people who lose their sense of smell are more likely to experience cognitive impairment, which may show up as memory loss or troubles with speech. Loss of smell also predicts the severity of brain changes and cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer's disease.

"If you have a loss of smell, you won't necessarily have cognitive impairment, but if you do, the more severe the loss of smell, the more severe the loss of memory will be," said de Erausquin, who is leading the research on a growing group of more than 300 Argentines ages 60 and up who have had Covid-19.

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