The brain health of over-50s deteriorated faster during the pandemic, even if they didn’t have Covid-19, finds research led by teams from the University of Exeter and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College University of London.

The researchers looked at the results of electronic brain function tests from more than 3,000 participants aged 50-90 in the UK and specifically the short-term memory of the participants and the their ability to complete complex tasks.

As they found, cognitive decline esignificantly accelerated in the first year of the pandemic, and this rate was higher in those who already had mild cognitive impairment before the pandemic. This continued into the second year of the pandemic, suggesting effects beyond the initial lockdown period. The researchers believe that this ongoing impact is particularly important for current public health and health policy.

Cognitive decline appears to have been exacerbated by several factors during the pandemic, including an increase in loneliness and her depressionreducing exercise and consuming more alcohol. Previous research has found that physical activity, coping with depression, giving back to the community and reconnecting with people are all important ways to reduce the risk of dementia and maintain brain health.

The head of the study at University of Exeter, Professor of Dementia Research, Ann Corbett, points out that the findings “suggest that the lockdowns and other restrictions we experienced during the pandemic really had a lasting impact on the brain health of people aged 50 and over, even after the end of locks”. This raises the important question, she continues, “if people run through possible higher risk of cognitive decline that can lead to dementia».

“It is now more important than ever to ensure we support people with early cognitive decline, particularly as there are things they can do to reduce their risk of dementia later. So if you’re worried about your memory, the best thing to do is make an appointment with your GP and get an assessment,” he adds.

Finally, the findings, says Ms Corbett, “highlight the need for policymakers to consider the wider health implications of restrictions such as lockdowns when planning a future pandemic response”.

The research was published in the journal The Lancet Healthy Longevity