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Alzheimer’s Research UK supports tracking COVID-19 symptoms with new app

The COVID-19 Symptom Tracker app, developed by King’s College London, is joining forces with the UK’s largest health-based charities.

The aim is to reach people most at risk of COVID-19, including those with pre-existing health conditions such as dementia, diabetes, heart disease and those over the age of 70.

Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Currently, there are no treatments to slow or stop the diseases that cause dementia. This means dementia gets worse over time. Many people living with dementia are aged over 70, not only will they be at higher risk of severe COVID-19, but they can often find it more difficult using smartphone technology.

“We are pleased to able to support the COVID-19 Symptom Tracker app and encourage loved ones and those with consent currently caring for people with dementia to help log daily symptom reports on their behalf. Research will find a way to defeat COVID-19.”

A new way for everyone to join the world’s largest COVID-19 study

Anyone can join the study by downloading the free COVID-19 Symptom Tracker app from covid.joinzoe.com and answering a few questions about their health and medications.

Participants then spend a minute checking in every day, logging whether they are feeling physically healthy or experiencing any new symptoms.

The app is endorsed by the Welsh Government, NHS Wales, the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland. More than 2.5 million participants have downloaded the app and are using it to regularly report on their health, making it the largest public science project of its kind anywhere in the world.

Why is it important to collect information from the over-70s?

Dr Claire Steves, a researcher from King’s College London and Consultant Geriatrician at Guys and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“We have been blown away by the public’s response to the app and the data collected so far has been invaluable. However, we have a clear gap in the data, so in order for us to really understand how the virus affects those over 70 and with pre-existing health conditions we need the support of the public more than ever to help us reach these individuals.”

The over-70s and those who have underlying health conditions appear to be most at risk from the effects of COVID-19, yet they are significantly under-represented in the current dataset from the app.

Prof Tim Spector, of the overall study leader at King’s College London said:

“Whether you’re fit and well or have an existing health condition, using the app to report daily on your own health and that of your loved ones will be making a really valuable contribution to the fight against COVID-19.”

Early analysis shows that the illness may start with different symptoms in these groups, such as diarrhoea and confusion, rather than the classic cough and fever.

One of the biggest barriers to recruiting people with pre-existing health conditions and those over 70 was access to technology. The company behind the app have now updated it to allow multiple user profiles, so that family, friends or carers can log daily health reports on behalf of anyone who wishes to take part in the study but does not have access to a smartphone.

The findings from the research will help to answer key questions that many people are thinking about, such as:

  • Which underlying health conditions increase the risk of COVID-19?
  • Which of my medications may be protecting me?
  • Is mild high blood pressure or type II diabetes a real risk factor for COVID-19?
  • I’m living with dementia – what does COVID-19 mean for me?
  • Is COVID-19 common in my area right now?
  • I’m older but fit and healthy – am I still at increased risk?

How is Alzheimer’s Research UK helping?

As the UK’s leading dementia research charity, Alzheimer’s Research UK is asking people, especially those over the age of 70 and anyone with a pre-existing health issue such as dementia, diabetes, heart disease or another other age-related diseases to link up with their relatives, or log on themselves, to help build an accurate picture of how COVID-19 affects us all.

If anyone has questions about sharing health data, the app itself or dementia in general please contact Alzheimer’s Research UK’s, Dementia Research Infoline on 0300 111 5111 or email us at infoline@alzheimersresearchuk.org.

Where can I access the app?

The COVID Symptom Tracker app is available to download from the Apple App Store and Google Play from the links at covid.joinzoe.com. Daily symptom maps and other content are available via covid.joinzoe.com/blog

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Ed Pinches

Team: Science news

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