Anxious and depressed over-50s suffered the equivalent of six years of memory decline during the first year of the pandemic, researchers revealed yesterday.
Scientists discovered the link by looking at five years of mental health and cognitive test data from an online study of 6,300 over-50s.
Poor mental health in lockdown corresponded with plunging scores on short-term memory tests, said researchers from the University of Exeter and King’s College London (stock image)
Dr Sara Imarisio of Alzheimer’s Research UK said: ‘While these findings are intriguing, depression and anxiety can often have short-term effects on memory and thinking skills that may not be an indication of future dementia.’
The study was presented at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease conference in Boston, US.
Scientists used participants from the Protect online study who provide lifestyle information in details questionnaires and take part in cognitive tests.
The study aims to help researchers understand what factors are involved in how the brain ages, and what can be done to keep our minds health in later life.
Lead author Dr Helen Brooker, from the University of Exeter, said: ‘We found that people who were more anxious and depressed during 2019/2020 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.’
The study aims to help researchers understand what factors are involved in how the brain ages, and what can be done to keep our minds health in later life
The study utilised measures of depression and anxiety severity commonly used in clinic.
Researchers noted a significant shift in the number of people scoring higher on these scales than previously.
Cognitive tests found the largest dip in memory and attention were seen in those whose scores would indicate moderate or higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Professor Dag Aarsland, from King’s College London, added: ‘We had five years of mental health reports and online scores in brain tests, which has enabled us to pinpoint the impact of the pandemic.
‘We will continue to monitor how this plays out over time, so our insights can help us fully understand the impact of this pandemic, to help us prepare for future events on the same scale.’