Medical experts examine impact of COVID-19 on dementia, Alzheimer's

University of Kansas Health System
Posted at 8:02 AM, Mar 05, 2021

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An international study is examining what connection COVID-19 has with the brain and people living with dementia and Alzheimer's.

The research was announced in the Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

An examination of a possible connection is important for Michelle DeMartino.

"I think there's not enough awareness out there for COVID patients who have Alzheimer's," she said while talking with University of Kansas Health System doctors.

DeMartino's parents both died from coronavirus.

In a recorded interview with the University of Kansas Health System, she explained her mother was relatively healthy. However, her dad had several health issues - including Alzheimer's.

"He was actually very peaceful when he went to hospice and he passed away on Feb. 9. My entire family was like this is the most peaceful we've ever seen him," DeMartino said.

While international researchers investigate what impact COVID-19 has on the brain, Dr. Jeffrey Burns with the University of Kansas Health System said there is information that's already known.

"People with memory problems or in the earliest stages of memory problems, maybe before we detected it, are more vulnerable to confusion related to getting sick," Burns explained. "How does that work, what's the mechanism behind that? It's probably that inflammatory response that getting sick triggers, it creates this sort of impact on the brain where confusion and deliriousness is increased, so people are more vulnerable to that angle of things."

Dr. Burns is the co-director of the KU Alzheimer's Disease Center. He explained late stages of the neurological disease could also leave people vulnerable to dying from coronavirus.

"People have trouble walking, they become bed-bound in the late, late stages of disease, they have trouble swallowing and eating. So yes, there's physical implications from Alzheimer's disease," he said.

Burns added that the pandemic impacted the lives of people living with dementia and Alzheimer's because many patients live in nursing homes, which were hit hard with illness and death during the pandemic.

He also said isolation created from the pandemic could have a psychological impact in speeding up problems with dementia and Alzheimer's in effected patients.