Pneumonia infections and cognition tied in new study of the elderly and dementia
Many older adults deal with chronic health conditions as they age. And according to a new study, these chronic conditions often seem to be preceded by a single infection in elderly patients.
To explore the possible connection between infection and chronic disease, the researchers looked at pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, and dementia, a range of issues involving mental function, in a long-term study of older adults.
These researchers found a two-way association between hospitalization for pneumonia and problems with cognition. The study showed that elderly patients who became ill with pneumonia were also more likely to be coping with mental decline, and that patients with dementia were more likely to later develop pneumonia.
The researchers looked at participants’ cognitive function — a broad term used to describe mental processes like memory, understanding, problem solving and language.
The researchers noted that the association between pneumonia and dementia seemed to be bidirectional — meaning not only did earlier pneumonia seem to affect later cognition, but earlier cognition issues seemed to affect later pneumonia chances.
A bidirectional relationship exists between pneumonia and cognition and may explain how a single episode of infection in well-appearing older individuals accelerates decline in chronic health conditions and loss of functional independence,
It is important to note that this study only hints at an association and not a causal relationship between pneumonia and dementia.
The researchers also noted, “Compared with participants never hospitalized with pneumonia, those who were hospitalized were older, more likely to be male, and had a higher prevalence of chronic conditions.” These factors could have played a role in the outcomes.