Is “COVID-Brain” a Risk for Memory Problems and Dementia?

What was once thought to be primarily a respiratory illness, COVID-19 has proven to be a formidable foe for the brain as well. While most people recover from the virus within a few weeks, some simply do not. Even months after being infected and getting over the initial symptoms, many people have reported ongoing problems with memory, fatigue, brain fog, and other neurological symptoms, collectively referred to by Amen Clinics as “COVID-Brain.”

These “long-haulers” represent approximately 10% of those who were ill with COVID-19. Many of them were never hospitalized nor in high-risk categories for complications from the virus.

Research into the underlying mechanisms of the persistent and disruptive neurological symptoms is ongoing and will likely continue for years to come. However, there already are some strong theories about what may be causing brain dysfunction from COVID-19 infections, and the possible links to an increased risk of cognitive decline or dementia in the future.

How COVID-19 Infects Brain Cells

One of the most striking hypotheses described in a research article in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia is that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, is “neurotropic.” This means that it can directly infect the tissues of the central nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.

Since the virus is airborne, it can be inhaled via the nose and enter the brain through the olfactory nerve. This nerve gives us our sense of smell, and anosmia—the loss of ability to smell—is often one of the first symptoms of COVID infection. Anosmia can also be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. It remains to be seen whether or not the damage to the olfactory system from the virus deteriorates its function in the long term. However, an October 2020 research study published in the medical journal Neurology found damage to the olfactory bulb (which connects to the olfactory nerve) in autopsy studies of those who had died from COVID-19.

Inflammation and COVID-19

Another significant concern about the long-term implications of COVID-19’s impact on the brain is the degree of inflammation it can cause. Because it is a new virus that no one had exposure to prior to 2019, humans had no defenses against it. And given its aggressive nature and potential lethality, once a person is infected with it, the immune system goes all out on the attack to fight it.

Through complex mechanisms, this results in increased inflammation as the immune system tries to defeat the invading virus. However, a consequence of this process is that, in an effort to protect the brain, the high level of inflammation can actually cause damage to the function of brain cells, including ones involved in memory.

Other possible causes of damage to the brain from COVID-19 include complications related to:

  • Hypoxia (lack of oxygen) due to breathing problems
  • Inflammation and damage to small blood vessels, similar to mini-strokes
  • Dysfunction of the blood-brain barrier

Even though problems with memory, attention, and other aspects of executive dysfunction have been experienced by both young and old people, some populations are at higher risk than others. For example, those who already have health problems that are linked to increased inflammation, such as diabetes and obesity, may be more vulnerable to a worsening of brain-related problems. Being pre-emptive to protect your health now can make a big difference.

People who already have health problems that are linked to increased inflammation, such as diabetes and obesity, may be more vulnerable to a worsening of brain-related problems from COVID-19. Click To Tweet

7 Simple Ways to Lower Inflammation and Boost Your Health

Since the long-term consequences of COVID-19 are becoming increasingly recognized, if you have not been infected with it, it’s imperative that you continue to follow recommended guidelines to protect yourself from this virus. If you have had it—and particularly if you still struggle with lingering symptoms—taking measures to lower inflammation is of utmost importance.

The good news is that there are some easy changes you can make that can have a positive impact on your health. Here are 7 simple ways to decrease inflammation in your body and brain:

  1. Increase your consumption of prebiotic foods such as apples, beans, cabbage, artichokes, asparagus, and root vegetables.
  2. Increase probiotics in your diet either through supplements or fermented foods with live bacteria, including sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled fruits and veggies, and kombucha tea (these are often found in the produce section of the grocery store).
  3. Boost your omega-3 fatty acid intake by eating more cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring, or with supplements.
  4. Limit or avoid alcohol, sugar and refined grains, processed meats, and trans-fats (anything with partially hydrogenated or vegetable shortening on the label).
  5. Take care of your gums! Periodontal (gum) disease can increase inflammation, so be sure to brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily.
  6. Practice stress management with mindfulness, meditation, or prayer.
  7. Engage in some form of exercise every day, but don’t overdo it, because that can actually increase inflammation.

It is widely believed among researchers that uncontrolled inflammation in the brain—regardless of the cause—is a significant risk for developing dementia. Taking the appropriate steps to protect your health, can make a big difference for optimal functioning of your brain now and in the future.

COVID-Brain and memory problems are real and can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever!

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

27 Comments

  1. How might the covid vaccines affect the brain? the vaccines are not deigned to prevent infection or transmission, just to lessen possible symptom severity. This could lead to people being infected and experiencing such mild symptoms as to not even know they are “sick”. So can the vaccines lead to brain issues?

    Comment by Kristin — April 21, 2021 @ 4:29 AM

  2. The connection between symptoms snd inflammation is highly credible, but the calling everything “COVID-19” is specious, including the original diagnosis. Everything else has disappeared! There has been an aggressive campaign to sell the vaccine but vaccinations contribute to inflammation, including and especially the brain. If I believe the flu vaccine is an example, doctors who think it’s a good idea will deny such an association with no more than their credentials to offer. The advice on diet and lifestyle is the best … part of our responsibility to think for ourselves and have some healthy doubts about Fauci and the Federal Health Agencies.

    Comment by Edward Flynn — April 21, 2021 @ 4:36 AM

  3. I am over 6 months post covid, and still do not have my taste back. My smell is very limited. I had pneumonia with covid and started to have anxiety, insomnia, depression(I never had any of these before), and cognitive decline afterwards, as well. I have an appointment @ the Amen clinic, but they are backed up and have to wait a while to get the necessary appointments. I found a neurofeedback center, that uses some of the same methods as the Amen clinic and I am starting with them to get the ball the rolling for the brain. All the suggestions in this article for diet and exercise, I already have been doing for 3 to 5 months. Nothing is working. Covid also messes up your hormones, so that is another thing I am try to work out. I am thankful for the Amen clinics and the research and awareness they are bringing to this major issue for post covid people.
    This has completely halted my life and I am trying to stay hopeful that I can get better. All mental health facilities should be aware of this and treat people with all this info in mind, but most are not.
    Thank you

    Comment by Jessica — April 21, 2021 @ 5:07 AM

  4. Since I had covid at Christmas I’m having short-term memory problems in repeating questions and not remembering that I even asked the question or what the answer was. This is new and very unsettling to me. I find it gets worse with inflammatory foods such as grains, sugar and the allergies of the spring which contribute to inflammation to the brain. I’m treating my allergies, taking turmeric for inflammation and probiotics. I also am doing a candida cleanse and find that diflucan helps to kill off the Candida in the brain and associated molds which I feel keep the virus in place in the brain.
    Diflucan helped with brain fog at the end of my covid in december. I am a nurse that has a holistic practice and will continue to play with ways to help gain clarity. Thank you for your comments and insights! Comforting to know that you’re addressing this.

    Comment by Maggie McKivergin — April 21, 2021 @ 5:13 AM

  5. Interesting article and I’m so glad you are talking about this. I’ll take it one step further….what are the effects of being isolated, distanced and limited socially on brain health? I wish experts would start looking into this.because what we have been doing and continue to do. Cannot be healthy for us !

    Comment by Maria rizzi — April 21, 2021 @ 5:33 AM

  6. Please make this information public; needs to be more accessible
    I see additions to the educational curriculum making health Ed as important as math science and language.

    Comment by Deborah E. Butler — April 21, 2021 @ 5:49 AM

  7. Thank you very much sharing these 7 tips on how to decrease inflammation! I’m going to post them up in my home to help me transfer that knowledge into my actions every day!!! Sincerely, Janie from Canada

    Comment by Mary Jane (Janie) Jardine — April 21, 2021 @ 6:47 AM

  8. Can any of these also be caused from the Covid Vaccine?

    Comment by Ina Sloop — April 21, 2021 @ 6:47 AM

  9. Can this also be affected by taking the Vaccine?

    Comment by Ina Sloop — April 21, 2021 @ 6:49 AM

  10. Very helpful. Thanks much.

    Comment by Ron Aitken — April 21, 2021 @ 7:27 AM

  11. Do you have any information for long term rashes from covid19 and/or the Moderma vaccine?

    Comment by Lorie Kulp — April 21, 2021 @ 7:51 AM

  12. Can vaccine create a rash in your arms and legs?

    Comment by Diane Conroy — April 21, 2021 @ 9:13 AM

  13. Given this info, do you support vaccination at this time as an additional measure to protect body and brain from Covid-19?

    Comment by Carole — April 21, 2021 @ 9:59 AM

  14. Thanks for the support and advice.
    We in UK will be grateful if you can have a branch of your Clinic to ease access to you.
    Thanks.

    Comment by Victoria Owoeye — April 21, 2021 @ 10:50 AM

  15. Your suggestions are important, but these are the same suggestions that have been out there for at least 2 decades on how to live a healthy life. The problem is that most people struggle just to manage their daily activities and have little emotional energy left to focus on changing their less than healthy lifestyles. Stress kills both directly and indirectly.

    Comment by Michael Janko — April 21, 2021 @ 11:24 AM

  16. Excellent, succinct, targeted advice…esp for me being 68 with CT showing brain shrinkage likely due to small vessel disease.

    Comment by Debbi — April 21, 2021 @ 11:56 AM

  17. what are the long haul symptoms?

    Comment by Barbara A. Kaker — April 21, 2021 @ 12:53 PM

  18. This is very helpful! I think at least one of every one of these steps I have taken so I’m comforted but I will continue to observe my mental state and physical state as well as what I eat and drink. And wouldn’t the need for the pre-biotic and pro-biotic be due to the fact that strong antibiotics are taken to help with covid?

    Comment by Gabe — April 21, 2021 @ 2:10 PM

  19. Thank you for posting this! I just heard on the news about COVID-19’s link to anxiety, depression, psychosis and dementia. Please post more articles on COVID-19’s relation to brain health as more information comes! Also, can you write about covid and anxiety and depression?

    Comment by Tiffany — April 21, 2021 @ 4:05 PM

  20. Please make this article shareable. I had covid a year ago and still have memory issues. I have other health issues, such as lung congestion and digestive problems, but memory loss is the scariest. My health, including memory, was fine before.

    Comment by Yvonne Keeny — April 21, 2021 @ 4:17 PM

  21. Many Thanx

    Comment by Rebecca Rolfe — April 22, 2021 @ 10:35 AM

  22. Hello Yvonne, thank you for reaching out. You can share this article with the share buttons at the very top underneath the blog title.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 22, 2021 @ 6:05 PM

  23. Hello Barbara, thank you for reaching out. Here is another article for you on that topic: https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/7-strategies-to-manage-chronic-covid-19-symptoms/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 22, 2021 @ 6:07 PM

  24. Can inflammation in the body/brain be reduced on it’s own over time? I am wondering if these anxiety, etc., symptoms and mental health issues related to covid can improve, or if these will be lasting or chronic issues.

    Comment by Tiffany Watson — April 23, 2021 @ 2:33 AM

  25. Hi Tiffany, thanks for reaching out. We have several blogs that cover inflammation that you might find beneficial to look at: https://www.amenclinics.com/?s=inflammation

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 23, 2021 @ 2:53 PM

  26. These 7 simple suggestions are fantastic for the reduction of inflammation. I have found in my experience with clients over the past 5 months that molecular hydrogen is the most effective anti-inflammatory ever! I hope Brain MD will consider producing a molecular hydrogen product soon… the testimonials are incredible and the research is located at molecularhydrogenstudies.com over 40 uses from molecular hydrogen from opiate withdrawal, to methamphetamine treatment, to pain/trauma in any area of the body needing it… greater mental clarity… on and on… currently we are using a molecular hydrogen called Recovery made by Life by Seacret, we are hoping Brain MD will make one soon! Thanks!

    Comment by Nadine Blase Psareas — April 25, 2021 @ 7:08 PM

  27. Head pain from to top of sculleach am Continues from major accident 2years ago each am upon waking. Helpful advice? Will be appreciated
    Thank you

    Comment by Roxanne Lindsay — May 3, 2021 @ 6:51 AM

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