Authored by Caden Pearson via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
The stringent lockdown measures implemented worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic have been found to significantly affect the working memory and cognitive function of older individuals, raising concerns about an elevated risk of dementia, according to a comprehensive UK study.
Researchers in the UK delved into neuropsychology data from over 3,100 individuals aged 50 and above, examining cognitive health trends before and after the first two years of the pandemic.
The findings, drawn from the PROTECT study, a longitudinal aging initiative conducted online by the University of Exeter and Kings College London in collaboration with the National Health Service, revealed striking impacts on the cognitive abilities of the participants.
The study cohort included nearly 1,700 women and over 1,400 men. Their average age was 67.5 years.
The study, spanning from March 1, 2019 to Feb. 28, 2022, encompassed the tumultuous period marked by the enforcement of social restrictions, including social distancing, quarantine measures, and unprecedented “full societal lockdowns,” which the study noted “had not previously been experienced in living memory.”
“The effects of these measures are yet to be fully established,” the authors of the study noted.
Findings from the study showed a substantial decline in executive function, which refers to higher-level cognitive skills governing control and coordination. Alongside this, the study’s cohort showed a marked decline in working memory, which is crucial for short-term memory storage and various cognitive processes.
“Significant worsening of executive function and working memory was observed in the first year of the pandemic across the whole cohort, in people with mild cognitive impairment, and in people with a history of COVID-19,” the authors wrote.
The negative impact on cognitive function persisted into the second year, notably concerning executive function across the entire cohort and working memory within specific subgroups.
Key factors for this cognitive decline were identified via regression analyses. Those factors included the fact that, amid lockdowns, people were exercising less and consuming more alcohol across the entire cohort. These factors also contributed to more people experiencing loneliness and depression.
The authors noted that concerns were expressed about the neuropsychological effects of the pandemic social restrictions, with particular respect to the context of potentially increased dementia risk in older adults.
A 2020 Lancet commission highlighted that lifestyle and mental health factors are major contributors to cognitive health, with risk factors that can be controlled contributing to 40 percent of dementia cases.
“These factors map closely to the population-wide changes in health and lifestyle seen during and after the lockdowns, raising the important question of the effect of the pandemic on cognitive health and risk across populations,” the study’s authors wrote.
The lockdowns, which drastically changed the lifestyles of millions, led to an increased use of alcohol—according to a systematic review of 200,000 participants—a reduction in physical activity, and an increase in sedentary behavior, according to another systematic review of 86,000 participants.
This was compounded by social restrictions that resulted in less social contact and networking. The study notes that “social isolation is closely associated with loneliness, and these constructs contribute to depression.”
The study noted other studies that found a poor mental health indicators have been a growing concern compared with pre-pandemic levels. These factors are closely related to dementia risk, leading the researchers to urge more research into the “effect of the pandemic on cognitive health” for older adults.
“The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a significant worsening of cognition in older adults, associated with changes in known dementia risk factors,” the authors wrote. “The sustained decline in cognition highlights the need for public health interventions to mitigate the risk of dementia—particularly in people with mild cognitive impairment, in whom conversion to dementia within 5 years is a substantial risk.”