- A new study finds that coronavirus patients who had severe symptoms can experience a decline in brain functions months after recovery.
- Some common cognitive issues include memory loss, brain fog, and an inability to concentrate for sustained periods of time.
- Researchers say that the cognitive decline is equivalent to the brain aging 10 years.
A new research report examining the long-term impact of the coronavirus suggests that recovered coronavirus patients can experience significant cognitive impairment even months after their initial diagnosis. The study, which included more than 84,000 people, is in the process of being peer-reviewed and was published on medRixv earlier this week.
While we’ve previously seen reports which highlight how recovered coronavirus patients can experience a range of cognitive issues such as memory loss and difficulty concentrating, this is the first study that set out to measure the extent to which brain function is impaired by the coronavirus. Suffice it to say, some of the study’s findings are both startling and frightening.
The study found that people who had COVID-19 “perform worse on cognitive tests in multiple domains than would be expected given their detailed age and demographic profiles.”
It’s worth noting that the cognitive issues weren’t just observed in patients who had a COVID-19 infection at the time, but also in patients who otherwise recovered weeks and months prior.
In instances where patients experienced severe coronavirus symptoms that required hospitalization, researchers found that the coronavirus can age the brain by about 10 years, which the study notes is equivalent to an 8.5 point decline in IQ.
The scale of the observed deficits was not insubstantial; the 0.57 SD global composite score reduction for the hospitalised with ventilator sub-group was equivalent to the average 10-year decline in global performance between the ages of 20 to 70 within this dataset. It was larger than the mean deficit of 512 people who indicated they had previously suffered a stroke (-0.40SDs) and the 1016 who reported learning disabilities (-0.49SDs). For comparison, in a classic intelligence test, 0.57 SDs equates to an 8.5-point difference in IQ.
A somewhat similar study from Northwestern involving 509 hospitalized coronavirus patients found that 31% experienced encephalopathy, an all-encompassing term that includes a range of altered brain function, including confusion, memory loss, concentration issues, and even slight personality changes.
That study reads in part:
Upon discharge from the hospital, only 32.1% of patients with encephalopathy were able to care for their own affairs, compared to 89.3% of those who did not develop encephalopathy. There was also higher mortality in patients with encephalopathy (21.7%) compared to 3.2% of those without.
Without question, one of the scarier aspects of the coronavirus is its apparent ability to impact a person’s health and cognitive function months after recovery. It remains unclear, at this point, if patients who experience a discernible cognitive decline will be able to return to a level of pre-coronavirus brain function later on down the line.