Research Reveals COVID-19 May Cause Long-Lasting Decline In Cognitive Functioning

Experts have known for some time that symptoms of COVID-19 include neurological complications. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that immediate neurological symptoms of the virus include muscle aches, headaches, dizziness, and an altered sense of taste and smell. Long-term complications are nerve damage, including peripheral neuropathy, fatigue, respiratory issues, lung damage, and muscle and joint pain. Rare neurological symptoms include Guillain-Barré syndrome, stroke, and heart attack. Patients with long-haul COVID-19 also seem to experience neurological complications that can be disabling, according to a 2022 report published in the Neurology Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation.

As to reasons why Harvard Health Publishing reports that the virus can damage the brain by encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or through a lack of oxygen. Both conditions are linked to mild and more severe cognitive effects, especially in those over 70. Now new research shows that COVID-19 could be linked to long-term cognitive decline.

Severe COVID-19 is linked to sharp mental decline

A 2022 study published in JAMA Neurology, conducted by researchers in China, followed 1,438 individuals over 60 years of age who contracted mild and severe cases of COVID-19. The study also included their uninfected spouses, who were included as a control group. Before becoming infected, the participants did not experience any signs of cognitive decline or neurological disorders.

Follow-up examinations revealed that 12.45% of the participants developed cognitive problems. About 10% of those with severe COVID-19 showed signs of dementia after one year, while 26.54% of them developed mild cognitive impairment within six months. The report also noted that 21% of those with severe COVID-19 infection experienced progressive cognitive decline, indicating that the virus could cause "long-lasting damage to cognition." Experts at WebMD explain that cognitive issues are common in those infected with COVID-19, but how this impacts individuals long-term is not fully understood.