A global consortium of researchers is seeking to uncover the short-term and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the brain to assess whether it can lead to cognitive impairments later in life such as Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia disorders.

Funded in part by the Alzheimer’s Association, the study is being led by researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and includes a consortium of researchers from throughout the world.

“It behooves the scientific and medical community to attempt to understand the molecular and/or systemic factors linking COVID-19 to neurologic illness, both short and long term,” the authors wrote in the study’s abstract.

The study is using methodology from the Alzheimer’s Association Global Consortium to study the neurocognitive sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection on the brain, including potential links to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD). Data collection is presently ongoing at 19 sites in 12 countries in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe.

“No available evidence supports the notion that cognitive impairment after SARS-CoV-2 infection is a form of dementia, whether it is Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias or some other cause,” Gabriel de Erausquin, MD, PhD, professor of neurology in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, the study’s corresponding author, said in a news release. “The Alzheimer’s Association Consortium multinational initiative will provide data to answer this question as clearly as possible in a globally diverse set of participants.”

A persistent loss of smell, a common symptom of COVID-19, is also associated with brain changes. Dr. Erausquin noted that the olfactory bulb, which contains the brain cells that react to smell, is where the COVID virus enters the nervous system. Through their research, the consortium’s researchers hope to gain a better understanding of the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the brain.

The peer-reviewed study appeared in the September 22 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.