UNSPLASHThe brain health of over 50s deteriorated more rapidly during the pandemic – even if they didn’t catch Covid, according to a new study.
Increases in loneliness and depression, less exercise and higher alcohol consumption were all contributing factors, say scientists.
Researchers looked at results from computerized brain function tests from more than 3,000 Brits aged between 50 and 90.
The remote study tested the participants’ short term memory and ability to complete complex tasks.
Researchers found that cognitive decline quickened significantly in the first year of the pandemic, when they found a 50 percent change to the rate of decline across the study group.
The figure was higher in those who already had mild cognitive decline before the pandemic, according to the findings published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity.
Scientists said the trend continued into the second year of the pandemic, suggesting an impact beyond the initial 12-month period of lockdowns.
The research team, led by the University of Exeter scientists and colleagues at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, believe the sustained impact to be particularly relevant to ongoing public health and health policy.
They said the cognitive decline seems to have been made worse by various factors during the pandemic, including an increase in loneliness and depression, a decrease in exercise and higher booze consumption.
Previous research has found that physical activity, treating existing depression, getting back into the community and reconnecting with people, are all important ways to reduce the risk of dementia and maintain brain health.
Professor Anne Corbett, of the University of Exeter, said: “Our findings suggest that lockdowns and other restrictions we experienced during the pandemic have had a real lasting impact on brain health in people aged 50 or over, even after the lockdowns ended.
“This raises the important question of whether people are at a potentially higher risk of cognitive decline which can lead to dementia.
“It is now more important than ever to make sure we are supporting people with early cognitive decline, especially because there are things they can do to reduce their risk of dementia later on.
“So if you are concerned about your memory the best thing to do is to make an appointment with your GP and get an assessment.”
She added: “Our findings also highlight the need for policy-makers to consider the wider health impacts of restrictions like lockdowns when planning for a future pandemic response.”
Professor Dar Aarsland, of King’s IoPPN, said “This study adds to the knowledge of the long-standing health-consequences of Covid-19, in particular for vulnerable people such as older people with mild memory problems.
“We know a great deal of the risks for further decline, and now can add Covid-19 to this list.
“On the positive note, there is evidence that life-style changes and improved health management can positively influence mental functioning.
“The current study underlines the importance of careful monitoring of people at risk during major events such as the pandemic.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker