Severe Covid can damage brain function, equivalent to losing 10 IQ points.


The cognitive impairment suffered through patients with a severe attack of covid-19 equals the loss of 10 IQ points, one new to learn has found.

According to scientists of University of Cambridge and Imperial College London, cognitive loss resembles aging two decades between 50 and 70 years.

The results of the study suggest that the effects are still detectable more than six months after the acute illness and that recovery is gradual at best.

There is mounting evidence that Covid can cause lasting cognitive and mental health problems, with recovered patients reporting symptoms months after infection.

Symptoms suffered by patients include fatigue, “brain fog”, trouble remembering words, trouble sleeping, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A separate British study found that about one in seven people surveyed reported symptoms such as cognitive difficulties 12 weeks after a positive test.

The researchers claim that between a third and three-quarters of hospitalized patients still experience cognitive symptoms after three to six months.

To further investigate the link between severe Covid and long-lasting cognitive impairment, the team analyzed data from 46 people treated at Addenbrooke Hospital for Covid-19 in the ward or intensive care unit – 16 of whom were on mechanical ventilation during their stay.

The study states that all patients were enrolled and recruited into the NIHR Covid-19 BioResource between March and July 2020.

Patients underwent detailed computer-assisted cognitive testing an average of six months after their acute illness, using the Cognitron platform, which measures various aspects of mental abilities such as memory, attention and reasoning.

Scales measuring anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder were also evaluated. Their results were compared to matched controls.

According to the study’s authors, this is the first time such a rigorous assessment and comparison has been conducted in relation to the consequences of a severe coronavirus.

The study found that Covid survivors were less accurate and had slower reaction times than the matched control population, adding that these deficits were still detectable when patients were followed up six months later.

It also turned out that those who needed mechanical ventilation felt the strongest effects.

By comparing the patients to 66,008 members of the general public, the study estimates that, on average, cognitive loss is similar to that which occurs between the ages of 50 and 70 – the equivalent of losing 10 IQ points.

According to the study, survivors performed particularly poorly on tasks such as verbal analogy reasoning, supporting the commonly reported problem of word-finding difficulties.

It was also found that the patients exhibited slower processing speeds, consistent with previous post-Covid observations of reduced brain glucose use within the brain’s frontoparietal network, which is responsible for attention, complex problem solving and working memory, among other things.

Professor David Menon, from the Department of Anaesthesiology at the University of Cambridge and senior author of the study, said: “Cognitive impairment occurs in a wide range of neurological disorders, including dementia and even routine aging, but the patterns we have seen are the same cognitive ‘fingerprint’ of Covid-19 – different from all of these.”

Although it is now widely accepted that patients who have recovered from severe Covid illness can present with a wide range of symptoms of poor mental health – such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, low motivation, fatigue, bad mood and trouble sleeping – The researchers concluded that acute illness severity was a better predictor of cognitive deficits.

While survivors’ scores and reaction times improved over time, the team said any recovery in cognitive ability is gradual at best and is likely to be influenced by a number of factors, including the severity of the disease and its neurological or psychological effects.

Professor Menon continued: “We only followed up some patients 10 months after their acute infection, so we saw a very slow improvement. While this wasn’t statistically significant, it’s at least a step in the right direction, but it’s very likely that some of these individuals will never fully recover.”

The researchers said there are several factors that could cause the cognitive deficits.

The first potential factor is possible direct viral infection, but the researchers added that’s unlikely to be a primary cause.

Instead, they said it’s more likely a combination of factors are contributing, including insufficient oxygen or blood supply to the brain, blockage of large or small blood vessels due to clotting, and microscopic bleeding.

They also uncovered new evidence that suggests the most important mechanism may be damage caused by the body’s inflammatory response and immune system.

While this study looked at hospitalized cases, the team says even patients who aren’t sick enough to be admitted can show telltale signs of mild impairment.

Professor Adam Hampshire, from the Department of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London, the study’s first author, said: “Around 40,000 people have been treated in intensive care with Covid-19 in England alone and many more will have been very ill but not admitted his hospital.

“That means there are a large number of people out there who are still having problems with perception many months later. We urgently need to look at what can be done to help these people.” Severe Covid can damage brain function, equivalent to losing 10 IQ points.

Bobby Allyn

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