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Portable Oxygen Concentrator Resource Center

COPD & Memory Loss: Why it Can be Hard to Remember

Posted by Erin Lowry on Dec 3, 2018 3:10:00 PM



COPD & Memory Loss: Why it can be hard to remember

Mayo Clinic recently did a study that ended with a result of those with COPD are twice as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

In the study, 1,600 were cognitively normal, 317 had MCI and out of the total 288 had COPD.

COPD was associated was a two-fold higher odd, meaning that those with COPD were two times more likely to have MCI.

For many, the odds get worse for MCI the longer that someone has COPD.

Gender was not considered a factor, both men and women were equally likely of developing MCI.

Dr Balwinder Singh, a psychiatry resident at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences, said that “COPD is a reversible disease in early stages, especially in smokers”.

He noted that is important because “they highlight the importance of COPD as a potential risk factor for MCI”.

This can help prevent progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, so quitting smoking is key.

If it is early enough to catch COPD and reverse it, it can also decrease the risk of developing MCI.

What COPD and Memory Loss Have in Common

Oxygen in the blood

A 15-year study done by the Mayo Clinic suggested that reduced lung function increases the risk of dementia.

Some reasons as to why these two are correlated are hypoxemia which is when oxygen levels are low, hypercapnia which is when there is too much carbon dioxide in the blood and structural brain damage.

Hypoxemia can correlate as those with COPD may not get enough oxygen into the body, which can lead to low oxygen in the blood and that can affect the brain.

Hypercapnia can play a factor as higher carbon dioxide in the blood (a side effect of both smoking and COPD) can result in poor cognitive function and decision-making function.

Structural brain damage can be severe enough to destroy white matter in the brain, which helps carry messages throughout the body.

COPD and MCI are likely together, as COPD comes with a lack of oxygen and MCI can develop from the lack of oxygen.

Any of the above factors (hypoxemia, hypercapnia and brain damage) can also occur from smoking, so smokers in general are at a higher risk for COPD & MCI.

The correlation then provides another question: does quitting smoking prevent COPD as well as dementia?

More research will need to be done in order to figure out the relationship between smoking, MCI and COPD.

What Can You Do?

It is key to try and maintain a healthy lifestyle, and not smoking at all can help you maintain that and avoid both COPD and MCI.

If you have smoked or do currently smoke, quitting is key to preventing the progression of COPD and developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Maintaining a healthy body weight, staying on top of diabetes and cholesterol levels, and participating in mentally stimulating activities (i.e. crossword puzzles, chess) can all help prevent any development of dementia or other memory loss condition.

Other ways to keep your brain in tip top shape is to go for a 30-minute walk every day, eat healthy, socialize (book club, movie club, etc), sleep well, avoid stress, and regularly visit the doctor.

Memory games are also a great source of brain training, helping you fight against MCI or dementia.

All of this can help you maintain good health throughout COPD and can prevent any progression as well as development of dementia or other mild cognitive impairments.

Development of Dementia Risk

In a study done by JAMA Neurology, out of 1,500 people, 170 people had COPD and over the course of 5 years, those with COPD were 83% more likely to develop mild dementia.

Those with COPD for 5 years or more, have low levels of oxygen in the blood or have more severe COPD (with poor results on lung function tests) are at a higher risk of developing MCI.

older gentleman struggling to remember

Memory Conditions Affecting COPD

As it is thought that COPD can cause mild cognitive impairments, MCI can worsen symptoms of COPD.

Memory conditions, such as dementia, can worsen COPD as those who have both may struggle to remember their medications and treatment plan, leading to worsening of COPD.

If you have concern that your MCI is affecting your COPD, speak with your doctor about what can be done to ensure that you take your medications on time and follow the prescribed plan.

This can be very important for your health, as your doctor may need to change your plan as a whole and make it easier on you to remember.


COPD and MCI are linked by the lack of oxygen individuals with COPD intake, and it is important to discuss your risk with your doctor.

Many studies are resulting in those with COPD at an increased risk of developing a mild cognitive impairment which can be concerning to those with COPD.

As studies begin to develop more accurate results, there will be a better management plan for those with COPD.

It is important to stay in good health with COPD and work hard on your memory by participating in crossword puzzles or other stimulating brain activities.

Not only can COPD affect memory, but any memory conditions (such as dementia) can affect COPD.

 The key is to keep in touch with your doctor about your current state and discuss what to do if you start struggling with memory.





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