- Researchers analysed brain function tests from 3,142 people, aged 50 to 90
- Analysis showed rate of cognitive decline quickened in first year of pandemic
Lockdowns have caused the brain health of over-50s to deteriorate 50 per cent faster than usual, a study found.
Levels of memory and cognitive function – such as decision making and problem solving – declined more rapidly during the pandemic.
Researchers from the University of Exeter and King’s College London analysed brain function tests from 3,142 people, aged between 50 and 90 and based in the UK.
Analysis showed the rate of cognitive decline quickened in the first year of the pandemic and was higher among those who had already shown signs of mild cognitive decline before the pandemic hit.
Levels of memory and cognitive function – such as decision making and problem solving – declined more rapidly during the pandemic. Experts said this was likely due to factors exacerbated by the pandemic, such as not exercising enough and drinking too much alcohol, as well as loneliness and depression
The pattern continued into the second year of the pandemic, which researchers said suggests an impact beyond the initial national lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, according to the findings published in the Lancet.
Anne Corbett, professor of dementia research at the University of Exeter, said: ‘Our findings suggest that lockdowns and other restrictions we experienced during the pandemic have had a real lasting impact on brain health in people aged 50 or over, even after the lockdowns ended.
‘This raises the important question of whether people are at a potentially higher risk of cognitive decline which can lead to dementia.’
Dag Aarsland, a professor of old age psychiatry at King’s, said the findings underlined the importance of careful monitoring of people at risk during major events such as the pandemic.
He said: ‘We know a great deal of the risks for further decline, and now can add Covid-19 to this list.
‘On the positive note, there is evidence that lifestyle changes and improved health management can positively influence mental functioning.’
It comes as a new poll today revealed that four in ten UK adults (40 per cent) do not realise that dementia is a cause of death, despite it being the biggest killer in the UK.
Conducted by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the survey of 2,530 adults found only a third (36 per cent) though it was possible to reduce the risk of developing the disease.
This is despite studies suggesting up to four in ten dementia cases are linked to factors people may be able to influence, such as diet and exercise.
Dr Susan Mitchell, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘This important study helps to demonstrate how the profound lifestyle shifts triggered by the lockdown restrictions might have influenced the nation’s brain health.
‘In doing so, it underlines the fact that there are steps we can all take to protect the health of our brain.