A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and the University of Exeter Medical School looks at the association between the risk of developing a severe form of coronavirus infection and genetic disposition of having dementia.
More precisely, the research focused on having faulty genes that are associated with different forms of dementia including the APOE gene also known as e4e4, and the chances of having COVID-19 regardless of whether the affected person has developed dementia or not.
The team of researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank and found that people with two copies of the APOE gene are more likely to develop a severe form of coronavirus infection in comparison with those who did not have the faulty genes.
These findings, which appear in the journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, are particularly concerning as the APOE gene has already been associated with a fourteen times higher risk of having Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia and heart disease in the future.
Previously, the researchers had already found that people with any form of dementia are at three times higher risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 and having COVID-19 than others.
However, the team held back from passing further comments as there was also a possibility that people with dementia are more likely to have coronavirus infection due to its prevalence in care homes.
In the current ongoing coronavirus pandemic, care homes are among the places with the highest number of cases of the coronavirus infection. Additionally, health authorities have already named care homes along with places of worship as the places where coronavirus spreads the most.
Therefore, the team investigated further on the issue and found that a certain gene may also be among the reasons why COVID-19 is prevalent in care homes. In fact, the APOE e4e4 gene doubled the risk of having a severe form of coronavirus infection. In comparison, those with the usual APOE e3e3 were not at equally high risk.
To reach this conclusion, the team looked at data of over 500,000 people sourced from the UK Biobank. The corresponding author of the new paper, Dr. Chia-Ling Kuo from the UConn School of Medicine, explained that the findings are important not only because they have uncovered a link between severe COVID-19 and dementia but also because it opens the possibility for the development of new treatments.
Professor David Melzer, who is the leading author of the study also commented on the findings, saying “Several studies have now shown that people with dementia are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19. This study suggests that this high risk may not simply be due to the effects of dementia, advancing age or frailty, or exposure to the virus in care homes.”
In addition, the findings also highlight the need for following preventive measures for avoiding coronavirus infection in older adults.
Health experts have already emphasized that the most vulnerable group at the moment is that of older adults since they are likely to have weaker immunities and underlying health issues that may increase the risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2.
Previously, people with diabetes, heart disease, and similar health conditions were advised to stay at home and avoid going outdoors while following all other instructions the most.
Now, the new research is likely to prompt health authorities to add dementia as a risk factor for having a severe form of coronavirus infection as well as in the group at the highest risk of the infection. Therefore, people with any form of dementia or with the APOE e4e4 gene are recommended to follow all guidelines on COVID-19 as much as they can.