Severe COVID-19 Could Impact Your Brain More Than You Think

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who have had COVID-19 may develop what has been dubbed "post-COVID conditions (PCC)" or "long COVID." PCC is more often found in people who have had severe infections, but anyone can have it. People with PCC can have a wide range of symptoms that can remain for months, weeks, or even years, including but not limited to extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, fever, and heart palpitations.

A recent study published in the journal eClinical Medicine suggests that people who have recovered from COVID-19 might also experience lingering cognitive issues, including problems with concentration and problem-solving. In addition, these people could have a rapid decline in their IQ with effects similar to what is seen in aging. U.S. News & World Report reports that this was found to be the equivalent of aging from 50 years old to 70 in a matter of months.

News Medical Life Sciences previously reported on research suggesting that COVID-19 might result in premature aging of the brain, especially in younger people. In addition, they noted that there had been earlier studies showing cognitive deficits following recovery from the illness. The current research was an attempt to further clarify these effects.

Severe COVID-19 appears to age the brain

U.S. News & World Report states that the researchers involved in the most recent study used a group of 46 British people who had severe cases of COVID-19 early in the pandemic. One-third of these had been ill enough to be placed on a mechanical ventilator to aid their breathing. 

Six months after their infections had cleared, they were given cognitive evaluations. This testing revealed that they had sharp decreases in their concentration and memory, as well as in their ability to solve problems quickly. Altogether, they were found to have had a drop of about 10 IQ points due to their illness. People were also reported to have had "brain fog," which made it difficult for them to find the words they were searching for. These changes were similar to what might be seen in aging.

Massachusetts General Hospital writes that mechanical ventilation can be associated with long-term cognitive difficulties that may linger for years. However, the study authors do not know exactly what caused the large drops in cognitive ability (via U.S. News & World Report).