A study carried out by Exeter University and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London has found that older people who were anxious and showing depressive symptoms during the first year of COVID lockdowns had a decline in their short-term memory equating to 6 years of natural ageing.
Nearly 6,500 people over fifty took part in the study which consisted of a series of lifestyle questions and exercises to help the researchers understand how healthy brains age and the reasons for some people developing dementia and over cognitive related diseases.
Participants aged over fifty who reported an increased feeling of anxiety and depression scored lower on cognitive tasks. These tasks are used to measure short term memory and attention and showed that the decrease for those participants was equal to the cognitive decline usually seen over 6 years of natural ageing.
More than 850,000 people suffer from dementia in the UK meaning 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 have dementia.
The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and it’s finding will be presented at the clinical trials at the Alzheimer’s Disease Conference.
Dr Helen Brooker, of the University of Exeter, led the research. She said: “We found that people who were more anxious and depressed during 2019-20 also saw their short-term memory and ability to focus worsen, by the equivalent of five to six years of what we’d expect to see from natural ageing.
"It’s likely that key factors were the unprecedented impact of worsening mental health caused by widespread anxiety over the pandemic, and long periods of lockdown. We need to understand this better so we can create effective strategies to support people and preserve both mental health and brain health in future pandemics.”