Coronavirus: Stressed out medics and patients at risk of developing dementia later in life, study says

The findings, published in 'The British Journal of Psychiatry', are based on data collected from more than 1.7 million people across the world

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Related: Mental impact of pandemic could affect frontline staff and patients for years

Healthcare workers and Covid-19 patients who come under great stress can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder that can lead to dementia later in life, suggests a new study.

Researchers analysed the results of more than a dozen studies published in The British Journal of Psychiatry and found a direct link between PTSD  and dementia.

Witnessing a trauma like a loved one being hospitalised for Covid-19 or even surviving the virus can cause PTSD

The findings are based on the data collected from more than 1.7 million people across the world. It suggested those with PTSD are 61 per cent more likely to suffer dementia at a later stage.

Tanya Dharamshi, clinical director and counselling psychologist at the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, said she has seen more patients receive treatment for PTSD as a direct result of the pandemic.

“It stands to reason some people will go on to develop PTSD, particularly, if their recovery is lengthy or their physical health remains impacted,” she said.

“It can also affect those who have lost a loved one, especially when you consider the circumstances, as they are likely to be isolated from their loved ones at the time of their death.”

According to the National Health Service in the UK, PTSD can develop after a very stressful, frightening or distressing event, or after a prolonged traumatic experience.

It is unclear why some people develop the condition while others do not.

People who have suffered from depression or anxiety in the past, do not have emotional and psychological support or have gone through a traumatic event are more likely to develop PTSD.

The sufferers experience insomnia, get angry, confused and anxious, have panic attacks, flashbacks or numbness, and feel detached from reality.

“Those who have had a previous traumatic experience could find Covid-19 triggers the condition again,” said Ms Dharamshi.

“Previous sufferers move into a fight or flight zone when they re-experience similar emotions such as panic, a lack of control, anxiety and a fear of being hurt or dying.”

To combat the psychological ill-effects of the pandemic, several help avenues of support have been set up for healthcare staff, patients and their families.

The ReacHer initiative in the UAE provides counselling to women via WhatsApp, and allows psychologists and life coaches to offer online support to those who have suffered during the pandemic.

A free helpline was also established by the UAE National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing.

Treatment for PTSD varies, and can include cognitive processing therapy, eye movement desensitisation reprocessing, stress inoculation therapy, prolonged exposure therapy and medication management.

"I have worked with several clients who showed signs of PTSD, with flashbacks, intense and overwhelming feelings when remembering traumatic events," said Anil Arora, a psychotherapist in Abu Dhabi who organises counselling sessions online for Change Therapies, a digital therapy clinic.

“Witnessing a trauma like a loved one being hospitalised for Covid-19 or even surviving the virus can cause PTSD.

“In fact, those people who are front-line workers are prone to PTSD as they are experiencing trauma everyday.”