Cognitive and Neuropsychiatric Manifestations of COVID-19 and Effects on Elderly Individuals With Dementia

Front Aging Neurosci. 2020 Oct 26;12:588872. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2020.588872. eCollection 2020.


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has rapidly spread worldwide and has had unprecedented effects in healthcare systems, economies and society. COVID-19 clinical presentation primarily affects the respiratory system causing bilateral pneumonia, but it is increasingly being recognized as a systemic disease, with neurologic manifestations reported in patients with mild symptoms but, most frequently, in those in a severe condition. Elderly individuals are at high risk of developing severe forms of COVID-19 due to factors associated with aging and a higher prevalence of medical comorbidities and, therefore, they are more vulnerable to possible lasting neuropsychiatric and cognitive impairments. Several reports have described insomnia, depressed mood, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and cognitive impairment in a proportion of patients after discharge from the hospital. The potential mechanisms underlying these symptoms are not fully understood but are probably multifactorial, involving direct neurotrophic effect of SARS-CoV-2, consequences of long intensive care unit stays, the use of mechanical ventilation and sedative drugs, brain hypoxia, systemic inflammation, secondary effects of medications used to treat COVID-19 and dysfunction of peripheral organs. Chronic diseases such as dementia are a particular concern not only because they are associated with higher rates of hospitalization and mortality but also because COVID-19 further exacerbates the vulnerability of those with cognitive impairment. In patients with dementia, COVID-19 frequently has an atypical presentation with mental status changes complicating the early identification of cases. COVID-19 has had a dramatical impact in long-term care facilities, where rates of infection and mortality have been very high. Community measures implemented to slow the spread of the virus have forced to social distancing and cancelation of cognitive stimulation programs, which may have contributed to generate loneliness, behavioral symptoms and worsening of cognition in patients with dementia. COVID-19 has impacted the functioning of Memory Clinics, research programs and clinical trials in the Alzheimer's field, triggering the implementation of telemedicine. COVID-19 survivors should be periodically evaluated with comprehensive cognitive and neuropsychiatric assessments, and specific mental health and cognitive rehabilitation programs should be provided for those suffering long-term cognitive and psychiatric sequelae.

Keywords: Alzheimer; COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; cognition; dementia; neuropsychiatry; pandemics.

Publication types

  • Review