COVID-19 Delirium and Dementia: Is There a Link?

COVID-19 Delirium and Dementia: Is There a Link?

Find out what experts are saying about a possible link between COVID-19 delirium and dementia.

Just one of the numerous negative effects from COVID-19 is temporary delirium. As a matter of fact, two separate studies revealed that 55% – 65% of individuals who were severely ill from the virus experienced the acute confusion that is one of the trademarks of delirium – as compared to approximately 33% of those critically ill with other health conditions. And while it may be short-lived, the long-term effects are still being determined, including a possible link between COVID-19 delirium and dementia.

What Is Delirium?

Delirium can manifest whenever multiple stressors come together, such as a surgical procedure or infection in a person with a chronic medical condition. Tino Emanuele Pononi, neurologist at the Golgi Cenci Foundation in Italy, further explains, “Delirium easily occurs when the brain is unable to compensate for a stressful situation.”

Over the past ten years, it’s been noted that even just one episode of delirium has been linked to an increased risk of dementia later, and an acceleration of the disease in people who are already experiencing cognitive decline. Not only that, but the longer a person is experiencing delirium, the greater the risk for cognitive impairment after the episode.

Because it takes years to follow patients who have experienced delirium, scientists are now only in the beginning stages of determining the particular effects of COVID-19-related delirium.

What has been determined now are the following three hypotheses to explain how delirium may lead to dementia:

  1. An accumulation of toxic cellular material in the brain might cause damage in the short-term (in the form of delirium) and then at a later time, longer-term damage (in the form of dementia).
  2. The brain may be triggering Inflammation from a build-up of cellular material from serious infections and/or a surgical procedure. If the inflammation persists, it can result in an acute case of delirium, damaging specific neurons and cells that can cause cognitive damage.
  3. There could possibly be a link between the lesser number of neuron connections in the brain that are part of dementia and the loss of neurological reserves that are required to help someone overcome infection or inflammation, leading to delirium and then further developing into dementia.

The good news is there are steps hospitals can take to help lower the rate of delirium. The HELP program focuses on reducing sedation, keeping a closer eye on nutrition and hydration levels, and bringing in family members to help with reassurance and orientation for patients. Studies show that the incidence of delirium was reduced by as much as 40% by implementing these policies.

As scientists continue the long journey towards a better understanding of how delirium, including COVID-19 delirium, and dementia are connected, Hired Hands Homecare is here with specialized dementia care in Novato and the surrounding areas to help seniors stay safe and comfortable at home. Contact us at (866) 940-4343 to learn more about how our dementia care team can help someone you love.

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