People with masks wait to cross a street in the Shibuya district in Tokyo, Japan on February 2, 2020.

Tomohiro Ohsumi | Getty Images News | Getty Images

SINGAPORE – The world may not be prepared for an upcoming wave of dementia and the additional cases Covid-19 could bring, according to a group representing over 100 Alzheimer’s and dementia associations worldwide.

Alzheimer’s Disease International urges the World Health Organization and governments around the world to “urgently research into the potential impact of COVID-19 on increasing dementia rates.”

It is said the pandemic could lead to a significant increase in the number of dementia sufferers in the long term, as some research has shown that Covid infections increase the likelihood of dementia and can cause dementia symptoms to appear earlier.

Dementia generally refers to deterioration in the brain that affects memory, thoughts, behavior, and emotions. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and there is currently no cure for dementia.

In the short term, “dementia rates may temporarily decrease due to the high number of deaths of people with dementia due to COVID-19, with dementia sufferers accounting for between 25 and 45 percent of all COVID-19 deaths. “Said the London-based group in a media release on Wednesday.

But in the longer term, the number of people with dementia “could increase significantly due to the neurological effects of COVID-19,” she added.

More than 217 million cases since the coronavirus first appeared in China in late 2019 of Covid-19 have been reported – and over 18 million have been detected in the past 28 days, according to official Johns Hopkins University data.

The actual number of Covid cases worldwide is likely higher than reported. This is partly due to factors such as a lack of tests to detect infections and insufficient capacity to report cases.

Covid and dementia

More should be done to understand the link between Covid dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) said.

“Many dementia professionals around the world are seriously concerned about the link between dementia and the neurological symptoms of COVID-19,” said Paola Barbarino, executive director of ADI.

The group’s medical and scientific advisory board, made up of global experts in dementia, has set up a working group to investigate this relationship and make recommendations on how to deal with the problem.

Dr. Alireza Atri, a cognitive neurologist and chair of the advisory panel, said he was “particularly concerned” about the effects of what is known as long covid. These include symptoms such as loss of taste and smell, “brain fog” or a loss of mental clarity, as well as impaired concentration, memory and thinking, he added.

Atri, director of the Banner Sun Health Research Institute in the United States, stated that Covid can damage and clog microvessels in the brain, violate the body’s immunity, and cause inflammation.

That can “allow easier access to things that can harm your brain,” and cause symptoms of neurological disorders – like dementia – to appear earlier, the doctor said.

Wave of dementia

The World Health Organization estimates that around 50 million people worldwide have dementia and nearly 10 million new cases occur each year.

Even before Covid-19, forecasts showed that according to ADI, dementia cases could rise from 55 million to 78 million by 2030. The costs associated with dementia, including medical care and expenses, could climb to $ 2.8 trillion annually, the group added.

“We urge WHO, governments and research institutes around the world to prioritize and allocate more funds for research and resource building in this area in order to avoid further overwhelming from the impending dementia pandemic,” said Barbarino .

A better understanding of the link between Covid and dementia can help authorities manage the increased prevalence of dementia and identify symptoms as early as possible, Barbarino said.

“Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of dementia enables people to seek more information, advice, and support that could potentially lead to a diagnosis,” she said.

“We need people who are aware of the possible link between long-term COVID and dementia so that they can monitor themselves for symptoms and track them down.”