Brain health a concern because of added stressors during COVID-19 pandemic, scientists say

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COVID-19 raises new concerns for brain health, experts say
WATCH: Research indicates women are disproportionately affected by brain diseases over men. As Katherine Ward reports, experts say it is critical for people to focus on their brain health given the stressors that have resulted from COVID-19 – Dec 2, 2020

When Barbara Schechter learned her mom had Alzheimer’s, she said she was in absolute shock.

“It was total devastation, my heart sank,” Schechter said. “I knew my life would never be the same.”

Schechter’s mother, Donna, was a few weeks shy of her 65th birthday when the diagnosis was made. Schechter said the new reality was difficult to process.

“I think from that moment on I was just mourning,” Schechter said. “I felt a loss for the life I should be living, and the mom I should be having that I felt like I lost at that moment.”

Evidence suggests that women are disproportionately affected when it comes to diseases that affect the brain. According to Women’s Brain Health Institute, 70 per cent of Alzheimer’s patients are women.

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Their data further indicates women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, stress, and anxiety.

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In Canada, Dec. 2 is officially recognized as ‘Women’s Brain Health Day.’

Scientists studying the brain said they are wondering what sort of effects the COVID-19 pandemic will have on overall brain health, especially in women.

Dr. Gillian Einstein is a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, and the Wilfred and Joyce Posluns Chair in Women’s Brain Health and Aging. She said there is no data to quantify the effects of the pandemic on the brain just yet, but many are already tackling that research.

“Younger women, I am concerned about because while short-term stress is probably very good for the brain… long-term chronic stress is not,” Einstein said.

“A lot of women who are at home right now are living with chronic long-term stress. Long-term stress can affect your memory.”

Lynn Posluns is the president and CEO of Women’s Brain Health Initiative She said their research suggests that taking the time to address brain health early on in a person’s life can lead to positive results.

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“The earlier you start, the stronger the protective effect will be. So things like keeping your mind mentally stimulated, new learning builds new neuro pathways,”Posluns said.

Schechter said she has noticed a change in her mother throughout the pandemic.

After the spring lockdown, Schechter observed these differences particularly with her speech. “Our visits really took a change, I did notice that her verbal communication decreased significantly,” Schechter said.

“Much of what she would (say) was nonsensical.”

The last time Schechter was able to visit in person was on Oct. 20. They celebrated Donna’s birthday, and a few days later the residence was shut down to visitors because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Schechter said she is constantly thinking about how her mother is doing. She said she worries about her spending so much time alone, and isolated in her room. Schechter said she wonders if she will share the same medical fate.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about this disease, and wonder if I will be next,” she said.



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