Researchers examine long-term health impacts of COVID-19 pandemic

Dementia experts at NeuRA are modifying their research to assess the impact that COVID-19 is having on cognitive decline in Australia. By investigating whether COVID-19 has altered our ability to function and feel good, researchers can identify whether global crises increase the rates of long-term mental disorders, memory problems or cognitive diseases, such as dementia.

Scientia Professor Kaarin Anstey is a leading dementia expert whose research has identified risk and protective factors for dementia. She oversees the PATH Through Life Study, which began in 1999 and involves is tracking over 2,000 people as they age.

This study comprises of three age groups:

  • People who were aged 20-24 years when the study began
  • Those in midlife who were 40-44 years old
  • Older Australians who were aged 60-64 years old

Given the magnitude of the Corona outbreak, Professor Anstey has included a new component to the study to investigate whether the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing symptoms of depression and anxiety or leading to increased levels of substance abuse.

Her team has created an online survey and interview system to look into how this pandemic is affecting the people involved in her study.

“This has two benefits. Firstly, it will allow us to measure the impact of the pandemic on people’s wellbeing and behaviour,” Professor Anstey said. “Secondly, we will be able to see whether this global crisis has long-term health consequences, especially in regards to dementia and other age-related diseases.”

Hundreds of the PATH participants have completed the surveys and interviews. “I’m very excited about obtaining the results and analysing the data. Understanding the long-term implications of health crises could help us to better prepare for future pandemics,” Professor Anstey said.

“Long-form research such as the PATH study is key if we hope to better prepare and protect communities across Australia from future crises, and to understand how the pandemic will impact healthy ageing.”