Dementia: Coronavirus may leave ‘toxic’ proteins in the brain seen in Alzheimer’s

Long Covid: Dr Sara Kayat discusses impact on children

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Research conducted by La Trobe University suggests proteins generated by COVID-19 could form into aggregations similar to those found in Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia.

Furthermore, the scientists behind the research theorise this very mechanism could underpin some of the persistent neurological symptoms, such as brain fog, experienced by patients.

Such is the impact of these neurological symptoms, a patient with long Covid may appear to exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Lead researcher on the project Nick Reynolds said of the amyloid plaques detected: “To cut a long story short, these amyloid plaques are very toxic to the brain cells and we hypothesise that aggregates of SARS-CoV-2 proteins may trigger neurological symptoms in COVID-19 that many of us call brain fog.”

The worry is that as well as causing symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease, that COVID-19 may increase the risk of the disease in the long run.

However, it is too early to tell whether this is the case, partly because there’s no long-term data and partly because this study is one of the first to suggest a link.

As a result, it cannot be said for certain COVID-19 increases the risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Columbia University’s Andrew Marks expressed a similar opinion, adding the possibility COVID-19 could be a new novel neurological condition.

Marks added: “One interpretation of these findings is that long Covid could be an atypical form of Alzheimer’s and/or that patients who had severe Covid could be predisposed to developing Alzheimer’s later in life.”

Meanwhile, in a UK first, an employment tribunal has ruled a long Covid could be classified as a disability after a charity caretaker brought a case of discrimination against their employer.

Long covid patient Terence Burke has been given permission to bring a case of disability discrimination against their former employer.

In their judgement, the employment tribunal ruled long Covid had left Mr Burke with “substantial and long-term” effects; Mr Burke was left so exhausted by long Covid, he was unable to complete household tasks.

Judge James Young said at the hearing: “Fatigue affected him badly until around January 2022 and that could ‘floor him’, sleep remained disturbed and there could be [a] flare-up of joint pain.

“He gave a similar account in August 2021 of symptoms and described requiring to sit and rest ‘and/or go to sleep’ and his legs and body aching on a short walk.”

Judge Young concluded: “I consider that the relevant tests are met to meet the definition of disability.”

The ruling of the tribunal comes just weeks after the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) decided the disease could not be treated as a disability.

In a statement they said: “Without case law or scientific consensus, EHRC does not recommend that long Covid be treated as a disability.

“Given that ‘long Covid’ is not among the conditions listed in the Equality Act as ones which are automatically a disability, such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis, we cannot say that all cases of ‘long Covid’ will fall under the definition of disability in the Equality Act.”

While the EHRC does not agree long Covid constitutes a disability, this was before the case of Mr Burke; a judgement with the potential to re-energise the discussion over long Covid’s status.

Campaigners and patients alike are becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of significant progress on treatments for the condition.

Around two million people currently live with long Covid in the UK according to the ONS (Office for National Statistics), a figure set to grow.

Mental health charities such as Mind are reporting a growing number of calls from patients developing depression as a result of their experiences of the disease.

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