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expert reaction to unpublished conference presentation looking at anxiety and depression in older people during the pandemic and memory decline

The research conducted by the PROTECT study looks at memory decline, anxiety and depression in older people during the COVID-19 pandemic and was presented today at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease Conference.


Prof Tom Dening, Professor of Dementia Research and Head of the Centre for Dementia at the Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham, said:

“These are interesting and somewhat alarming findings. It would have been expected that during the pandemic people might be more anxious and vulnerable to depression. Both of these conditions are known to affect cognitive test performance. Probably the extent to which cognition was affected is surprising, though it is hard to know given that we haven’t seen the data or the presentation by the authors.

“It is quite graphic to present the decrease in test scores as equivalent to the ‘normal’ decline seen over five or six years. However, it is also slightly misleading as it possibly implies that the deficits are progressive and irreversible or may even suggest that dementia has been triggered in some way by lockdown. Of course, we don’t know if the changes in scores may reverse in the future as (hopefully) people are able to return to more normal lives. 

“The other caveat is that these results are being presented at a conference and so have not yet undergone the peer review process needed for a journal publication.”


Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“While these findings are intriguing, depression and anxiety can often have short-term effects on memory and thinking skills that may not be an indication of future dementia. It will be important to follow up on these findings so that we can understand how these factors play into participants’ brain health in the longer term.

“The good will and dedication of volunteers from around the UK made this research possible. Volunteering for dementia research can be extremely rewarding and you don’t have to have dementia to get involved.

“Those wanting to volunteer to take part in research like this can do so by ringing Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Infoline. Contact us on 0300 111 5111 and we will help register people to Join Dementia Research, a national service, where you could match to research studies like this one.

“To make breakthroughs possible for people with dementia it’s vital volunteers take part and help get important research studies off the ground. We saw a record number of people volunteer to take part in research into COVID-19 and we now must do the same to tackle dementia.”


Professor Dame Til Wykes, Head of the School of Mental Health and Psychological Sciences (MHaPS), Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, said:

“People with mental health problems often experience a decline in their thinking skills including memory, so it is unsurprising that we have seen one in this study. The important issue is what happens as these mental health problems reduce. Do we see improvements in memory or are they more permanent?”

“We know that mental stimulation and physical exercise are important for maintaining cognitive skills and lockdown has reduced the opportunities for both, especially in older people who were told to shield. The PROTECT study probably underestimates the effects of this reduced stimulation as participants had access to the internet and we’re engaged with the study.”

“There has been attention to the mental health effects of COVID19 in young people. The PROTECT study has shown that the same mental health difficulties were also experienced by older people for the same and for different reasons.”



This work is being presented at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease Conference. There is no full paper and the work has not been through peer review. It is part of the PROTECT study –



All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:



Declared interests

Prof Tom Dening: “I have no conflicts of interest to declare.”

None others received.

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