COVID-19 Pandemic Adds New Urgency to Alzheimer’s Fight

Commentary by Diane Bovenkamp, PhD, BrightFocus Vice President, Scientific Affairs
  • Research News
Published on:
A series of brain scan images.
COVID’s lingering neurologic effects make it important to double down on Alzheimer’s research, and BrightFocus & its donors are making that happen.

Do COVID’s lingering effects increase the risk for dementia?  For answers, we need a renewed commitment to Alzheimer’s research -- and BrightFocus & its donors are making that happen.

As the COVID-19 pandemic of historic, tragic proportions may be evolving into an endemic disease, there are troubling signs that the virus can leave lingering cognition and memory issues resembling dementia. This adds even greater urgency to our global effort to defeat Alzheimer’s.

Headshot of Diane Bovenkamp, PhD
Diane Bovenkamp, PhD

The alarming evidence – COVID-19 patients with longer-term memory loss and a fog-like mental state – has led to concerns about more long-term consequences and the possible increased risk that they may have of developing Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases. Scientists are studying a number of ways the disease can pose long-term harm to the brain.

This disturbing development coincides with a sharp rise in the aging of U.S. and global populations, which also increases the number at risk for dementia, a primarily age-related condition. With the later Baby Boomers nearing 65, seniors will soon outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.

To address the dangerous confluence of these two trends – COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s – we must invest with fierce urgency, in cross-disciplinary research to better understand, treat, and ultimately prevent the risk COVID-19 presents to our brain health. This can be a watershed moment, galvanizing greater attention, understanding, and empathy for those living with dementia and for their caregivers.

One of many lessons from the pandemic for health and science leaders is the critical imperative of, even in times of crisis, staying the course on our long-term commitment to end diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, which rob our health and well-being. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, BrightFocus Foundation not only maintained, but actually increased, our commitment to end age-related diseases of mind and sight, with more than $25 million given in 2021, a five-fold increase over the past decade.

Moreover, we were able to provide emergency assistance to scientists whose work was threatened by lockdowns, staffing cuts, and loss of access to key materials. Some of our grantees put themselves on the front lines of patient care, and many took on greater responsibilities for young children and aging parents. Thankfully, our support for research and clinical trials and engagement of scientists and affected families was magnified across the globe, as highlighted in this joint commentary, with our fellow members of the International Alzheimer’s Disease Research Funder Consortium.

Additionally, BrightFocus saw COVID-19’s impact on vision research, particularly with early-career scientists’ work in some cases disrupted and delayed. We were able to provide help to support and sustain these promising young scientists working to save sight.

In the darkness of this multi-year pandemic, the power and promise of science has shone through brightly with the rapid development and production of new vaccines and treatments. Together, let’s continue the momentum of this great progress by strengthening our global commitment to defeat Alzheimer’s. Everyone deserves the chance to embrace aging with vitality and health, rather than fear of disease.

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