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Several factors magnified by the Covid pandemic have been shown to have a lasting effect on brain health.
Professor Anne Corbett, from the University of Exeter, explained: “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.”
The PROTECT study involved more than 3,000 volunteers who completed yearly questionnaires and online cognitive tests.
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Tests included brain-training games to check memory skills and reasoning.
During the first year of the pandemic, in 2020, volunteers experienced an accelerated decline in cognitive function.
This was irrespective of whether they caught Covid or not.
Memory issues continued to persist into the second year of the Covid pandemic.
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Researchers said stress, loneliness and alcohol consumption may explain some of the findings.
For people who were already suffering from memory issues, the further decline of memory was more pronounced during the pandemic.
Professor Corbett said: “It is now more important than ever to make sure we are supporting people with early cognitive decline, especially because there are things they can do to reduce their risk of dementia later on.
“So if you are concerned about your memory, the best thing to do is to make an appointment with your GP and get an assessment.”
Dr Susan Mitchell from Alzheimer’s Research UK cautioned there is “no sure-fire way to prevent dementia yet”.
However, adopting healthy habits can only benefit the brain, such as:
- Socially connecting with others
- Remaining mentally sharp
- Looking after your heart health.
The researchers plan to continue the research to see what further lessons can be learned from the study.
The PROTECT study was published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity journal.
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