SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A new study from the University of Missouri School of Medicine and MU Health Care showed patients hospitalized with COVID-19 pneumonia have a higher risk of developing dementia than those with other types of pneumonia.

A team of MU researchers pulled Cerner Real World Data from 1.4 billion medical encounters prior to July 31, 2021. They selected patients hospitalized with pneumonia for more than 24 hours. According to records, among the 10,403 patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, 312 (3%) developed new-onset dementia after recovering, compared to (2.5%) of the 10,403 patients with other types of pneumonia diagnosed with dementia.  

The median time interval between infection and dementia diagnosis was 182 days for COVID-19 patients. The study only included new-onset dementia associated with hospital admission during a short follow-up period. Lead researcher Adnan I. Qureshi said further study over longer periods of time would provide a more complete picture and may help to determine the underlying reasons why COVID-19 pneumonia might increase dementia risk.  

“The findings suggest a role for screening for cognitive deficits among COVID-19 survivors,” Qureshi said. “If there is evidence of impairment during screening and if the patient continues to report cognitive symptoms, a referral for comprehensive assessment may be necessary.”  

Dr. Jean Guan a primary care Geriatrician at CoxHealth said she has seen more reports of patients being concerned about memory changes. She said a factor that could have played into COVID-19 impacting people’s minds is social isolation.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the social isolation,” said Dr. Guan. “What we’ve all been going through these past couple of years has had a significant impact on patients who may have been struggling very slightly with memory before the pandemic started but then with the social isolation, losing their support system, losing all the home health access, we saw more signs of dementia.”

She also said it has been known for a while that COVID-19 does have a connection with affecting our memory.

“COVID infection can cause this sort of post COVID syndrome with associated brain fog and memory issues among other things,” said Dr. Guan.

Even though it’s clear there is some connection between COVID-19 infection and the brain the disease is still in its infancy and there are still many questions that have not been answered yet. What doctors do know for sure is that social isolation can increase the risk of someone developing memory problems and have the potential to develop some form of dementia down the line.

Dr. Guan stated that if someone is still struggling with dementia symptoms to reach out to a medical professional and their support system.

“Let them know what you are struggling and dealing with,” said Dr. Guan. “I know we have been patient for a really long time with this pandemic but we need patience. Because we still don’t know how long this will last and what the true impact will be.”

Doctors are not at a point where they can confirm COVID-19 directly causes dementia. However, studies are showing more people are dealing with memory issues after recovering from the virus. Dr. Guan said for right now people will have to adapt and have patience while doctors continue to try to uncover answers COVID-19 still has hidden.

To read the full study click here.