Study: Pandemic Lockdowns Linked to ‘Significant’ Memory and Cognitive Decline in Seniors

Amidst the ongoing discourse surrounding the mental health implications of pandemic-related lockdowns, a new study conducted by Dr. Anne Corbett and her team at the University of Exeter Medical School has brought attention to a concerning aspect—accelerated cognitive decline among seniors.

The study delved into neuropsychology data from 3,142 individuals, all aged 50 or over, who had been participating in a comprehensive dementia study in Britain spanning multiple decades. What makes this research particularly noteworthy is its examination of cognitive changes before, during, and after the pandemic, offering insights into the long-term effects of societal restrictions on the elderly.

The findings revealed a significant worsening of executive function and working memory across the entire cohort in the first year of the pandemic, with the average age of participants being 67.5. This decline persisted into the second year, painting a concerning picture of the lasting impact of pandemic-related measures on cognitive health.

The researchers pointed out a correlation between cognitive decline and specific lifestyle changes during the pandemic. Reduced exercise and increased drinking were notably associated with cognitive deterioration across the entire cohort. Moreover, depression, a recognized factor in cognitive decline, was prevalent among those who contracted COVID-19. Loneliness, exacerbated by the lockdowns, was identified as a particularly detrimental factor for individuals with mild cognitive impairment.

Notably, the study shed light on the role of the British government in these cognitive declines. The government, through the National Institute for Health and Care Research, not only limited citizens’ ability to exercise outdoors but also closed gyms, golf courses, sports courts, swimming pools, and indoor sports facilities—a move that the study suggests played a part in the observed cognitive decline.

“The scale of change is also of note, with all groups—the whole cohort and the individual subgroups—showing more than a 50% greater decline in working memory and executive function, and many effect sizes reaching a clinically significant threshold of greater than 0·3,” remarked the researchers.

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