Possible link between COVID-19 and dementia topic of presentation at Alzheimer’s conference

Not much is known about a possible link between COVID-19 and dementia, but there is some data to suggest there may be, says a Canadian Alzheimer’s expert.

dr Donald Weaver will be the keynote speaker on COVID-19 and dementia at the annual Alzheimer’s Awareness Conference Thursday in Charlottetown.

Weaver runs the Weaver Lab at the University of Toronto, a drug discovery laboratory whose goal is to find treatments for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“COVID is still a relatively new disease. I know people have heard a lot about it, but I mean, it’s only been around for a few years and we haven’t had a chance to follow it in a really long time,” Weber said.

“But given what we know about COVID, and given what we know about dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, the warning flag that there could be a relationship between the two has certainly been raised.”

dr Donald Weaver and his lab are researching a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

In the early days of COVID-19, people thought it was primarily a lung disease, Weaver said.

But over time it becomes clear that it is a disease that affects a number of organs, including the brain.

This has not been clearly proven. This is a hypothesis, and it’s something we’ll have to watch out for over time.-Dr. Donald Weaver

“A lot of people with long COVID talk about the brain fog, talk about long term headaches… there’s just a lot of neurological or brain stuff that comes with COVID,” Weaver said.

“Certainly, the inflammation that accompanies this virus and the brain can lead to long-term consequences, and it’s possible that dementia could be one of those long-term consequences.”

The potential for a link between the two states is just a theory at this point, Weaver said.

“It hasn’t been definitively proven. That’s a hypothesis and we’ll have to watch for that over time.”

X-ray of a brain
Younger people with dementia and Alzheimer’s are sometimes mistaken for mental illness. (Shutterstock)

There are estimates that dementia rates could double by 2050 without further cases of people with COVID-19.

Weaver said his lab and many others around the world are looking for drugs that might help.

“We are very optimistic that this is going in the right direction and that our understanding of dementia is so much better today than it was ten years ago,” he said.

New support group

This week’s Alzheimer’s conference will also include presentations on carer self-care, financial planning and living with dementia as an LGBTQ2S person.

The Alzheimer’s Society of Prince Edward Island, which is hosting the conference, recently formed a new group for carers of people under 65 with dementia, said the society’s CEO Jaime Constable.

The onset of dementia looks very different in younger people, Constable said, and sometimes the symptoms are more suggestive of mental illness than brain disease.

“The process can be very difficult for families to determine what’s going on when the symptoms are first noticed… some of them are still working and sometimes the caregiver is also working,” she said.

“Sometimes a person with a teenage diagnosis is still raising children or paying for their adult child to attend college, and sometimes they are caring for an aging parent.”

There may also be financial burdens.

“The caregiver may have to take time off work to provide support while still handling mortgages and car payments. So it’s a lot different than someone who might be retired and already has the assets to kind of help them through that process,” said Constable.

“Great to see people coming together”

The group, which began meeting since last summer, has been very popular, Constable said.

“The group was eight to 15 people each month, which is great when people come together for support,” she said.

“With early onset dementia, it’s often not something that a person’s other friends experience. So you tend to see groups of friends withdrawing from early onset dementia.”

The 11th Annual Alzheimer’s Awareness Conference will be held Thursday at Jack Blanchard Hall in Charlottetown.

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