COVID-19 and Dementia – A Troubling Relationship

Caring Advisor graphic with text that says "COVID-19 and Dementia. Learn the Risk." Shows a doctor holding up brain scans.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can result in several neurological problems. While many know of the classic symptoms, such as short-term loss of taste and smell, emerging evidence shows that severe long-term neurological issues can arise after a COVID-19 infection. Of particular concern is that growing research highlights a troubling relationship between COVID-19 and dementia, and how each disease can increase someone’s risk for the other.

Dementia Increases COVID-19 Risks

Dementia vastly increases the risk of getting COVID-19 and facing more serious symptoms from it, according to research recently published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia. Even after adjusting for factors like sex and age, researchers found that people in the study with dementia were twice as likely to develop COVID-19 compared to people who did not have dementia. Race also played a factor when accounting for hospitalizations: 73% of Black patients and 54% of White patients with dementia had to be hospitalized within 6 months of a COVID-19 diagnosis. By contrast, that rate for people without dementia was at 25%.

Even more startling is that researchers found that both Black and White patients with dementia were almost four times as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to patients who did not have dementia.

Clearly there is an enhanced risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes for people with dementia, but why? Experts are not 100% sure, but many believe that there are two primary reasons:

  1. Dementia may make it harder to take proper precautions against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the illness COVID-19.
  2. Researchers in the Alzheimer’s & Dementia study found that the greatest risk of COVID-19 was for patients with vascular dementia. As such, some believe that damage to blood vessels might make it easier for a virus to travel to and cause damage within the brain, resulting in worse outcomes than patients without this condition.

Could COVID-19 Increase Dementia Risk?

As discussed above, having dementia greatly increases the risk of not only getting COVID-19, but also having a more severe case. The reverse might also be true. In other words, COVID-19 might increase the risk of dementia, according to experts associated with Alzheimer’s Disease International. These experts believe that the current pandemic could lead to an increase in dementia patients in the future.

It is a well-known fact that COVID-19 can result in neurological problems like the notorious “coronavirus brain fog.” Researchers now wonder whether these problems could accelerate the formation and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, especially since some patients experience COVID-related neurological symptoms long after recovering from their initial infection (known as “long COVID patients” or “long haulers”).

Final Thoughts

There is an unsettling relationship between COVID-19 and dementia, although being armed with proper knowledge about it–as well as how to protect against these diseases–can help people take actions that may improve their health outcomes.

To protect against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes the illness COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following:

  • Getting vaccinated.
  • Wearing a mask over the mouth and nose while indoors.
  • Staying six feet (~two meters) away from others.
  • Avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated areas.
  • Testing.
  • Washing hands with soap and water, or using hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
  • Covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Cleaning high-traffic areas and surfaces regularly.
  • Monitoring personal health on a daily basis for signs of illness.

To reduce the risk of dementia and other illnesses, the CDC recommends the following:


Disclaimers – This article does not constitute professional, medical, legal, or financial advice. It is for informational purposes only. Any and all health-related questions should be directed to a licensed medical professional.