Researchers link severe COVID-19 cases to mental decline equal to aging a decade

People that have suffered severe cases of COVID-19 may experience mental decline equal to the brain aging by a decade, according to a new study released this month.  

Researchers from the U.K. analyzed the test data of over 84,000 participants who took the Great British Intelligence Test and were suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19. 

The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that people who had recovered from severe cases of the disease exhibited “significant cognitive deficit” after controlling for other factors such as age, gender and pre-existing medical conditions. 

Some deficits were of “substantial effect size,” the researchers found, specifically among those who had been hospitalized and those who had mild cases and reported no difficulty breathing. However, among those who ended up on a ventilator, the deficits were “equivalent to the average 10-year decline in global performance between the ages of 20 to 70.” 

The cognitive decline could be the result of other health events that are thought to be associated with COVID-19 such as stoke, inflammatory syndrome and micro bleeds, according to the study.

COVID-19 is a disease that can have critical impacts on the upper respiratory system, leading patients with severe cases to require supplemental oxygen. As a result, researchers in the study have also hypothesized that hypoxia in the brain could also lead to cognitive decline. 

However, they write, “it is yet to be established whether COVID-19 infection is associated with cognitive impairment at the population level; and if so, how this differs with respiratory symptom severity and relatedly, hospitalisation status. Measuring such associations is challenging.”

In all, the scientists said that their findings “align with the view that there are chronic cognitive consequences of having COVID-19. Individuals who recovered from suspected or confirmed COVID-19 perform worse on cognitive tests in multiple domains than would be expected given their detailed age and demographic profiles.” 

The researchers said their study should be a “clarion call” for more research into the basis cognitive deficits in recovered COVID-19 patients. 

Some scientists say that the study’s results should be viewed cautiously. 

Derek Hill, a professor of medical imaging science at University College London, told Reuters that the study did not compare before and after scores of participants, and that a large number of them only self-reported having the virus without a positive test. 

“Overall (this is) an intriguing but inconclusive piece of research into the effect of COVID on the brain,” Hill told Reuters. “As researchers seek to better understand the long term impact of COVID, it will be important to further investigate the extent to which cognition is impacted in the weeks and months after the infection, and whether permanent damage to brain function results in some people.”

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Study: HIV-positive adults show early signs of aging, even after antiretroviral therapy

Oct. 22 (UPI) — People with HIV may experience aging-related illnesses, such as heart disease and brain disorders, earlier than those without the virus, even if they have been on antiretroviral therapy, a study published Thursday by the journal Pathogens and Immunity found.

The analysis, which compared 15 HIV-positive adults on antiretroviral therapy to 15 age-matched people without the virus, found that those being treated with the drugs showed increased evidence of cellular aging, the researchers said.

Antiretroviral therapies, or ART, are intended to slow the progression of HIV and reduce the level of the virus in the body.

While ART has led to people with HIV living longer, they are still at higher risk for having a “reduced healthspan” — or developing age-related health complications — than those without the virus, according to the researchers.

“Most individuals living with HIV probably already know that they are facing more health challenges than their uninfected peers, so the main takeaway from this study is that we’re now beginning to better understand why that is,” study co-author Beth D. Jamieson told UPI.

“It’s clear that the antiretroviral therapies aren’t causing this aging acceleration. It appears to be the virus and … the antiretroviral therapies appear to help reverse some of this aging, but the changes are less robust and much slower than we’d like to see,” said Jamieson, a professor of medicine in the division of hematology and oncology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

About 1.4 million adults in the United States have HIV, and nearly 40,000 are diagnosed with the virus each year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Research suggests that ART drugs bolster the immune systems of those with the disease, allowing them to better fight off infections and, effectively, enabling them to live close-to-normal lifespans.

However, treated HIV-infected adults still experience earlier declines in physical functions, as well as higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, kidney failure, liver cancer and neurological disorders than otherwise healthy adults, Jamieson and her colleagues said.

For their research, the UCLA-based team assessed 30 study participants — 15 receiving ART for HIV and 15 healthy controls — for signs of cellular aging. DNA samples collected from all study subjects were analyzed using the epigenetic clock, a biochemical test used to measure aging.

In the HIV-positive participants, DNA samples were collected at three points — six months to one year before starting ART, six to 12 months after beginning treatment and 18 to 24 months later.

Before starting ART, the DNA participants with HIV all had significantly higher levels of four measures for cellular aging — age acceleration residual, extrinsic epigenetic age acceleration, phenotypic epigenetic age acceleration and Grim epigenetic age acceleration — than the uninfected adults, the researchers said.

That remained true six to 12 months after the HIV-positive participants started ART. However, 18 to 24 months after starting therapy, only levels of residual and extrinsic epigenetic age acceleration remained higher in those with HIV, the analysis

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