An increasing number of reports have listed cognitive symptoms of long Covid, with some severe cases reporting neurological problems. One study published in the Lancet identified a seven point drop in IQ among people who had seemingly recovered from the Coronavirus. The severity of this ‘brain fog’ seemed to increase depending on how serious the initial infection was, with hospitalised people being the most heavily impacted. People who were not hospitalised saw a diminished but still measurable impact on their brains.
Dr Stuart Sanders, GP and the London General Practice was hospitalised early into the pandemic with a Covid infection striking in March 2020.
While he was discharged and recovered in under two months, he felt persistent effects for longer afterwards.
He said: “I was affected in a specific way – my online bank uses a password, a secure numerical code generated from a device which looks like a calculator.
“Pre-Covid, nine number recall would present no difficulty, but after Covid six digits was the maximum I could commit to memory.”
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The cognitive impact in Dr Sanders’ case was not permanent, but he believes that it may not be recognised in many cases.
“Eighteen months later, the fog has lifted, I have recovered and am able to remember nine digits again with hardly any difficulty.
“I believe many Covid sufferers have unrecognised post-infection cognitive impairment, manifesting as, in my case, very subtle memory impairment.”
Without psychometric testing, which he recommends, it can be difficult to determine whether long Covid is having an effect on your thinking and whether it is getting better with time.
The doctor noted that exercising the brain could aid the recovery process.
He elaborated: “By this I mean whatever familiar exercises you like doing, for example crosswords, bridge, puzzles or simply reading a book which engages you.
“All exercise, be it cerebral or physical, should be paced so as to be invigorating but stopping short of exhaustion; this could be counterproductive.”
More general advice for managing long Covid include a balanced diet and moderated exercise.
Research groups have identified different areas of cognition that have been impacted by long Covid.
A joint study by Imperial College, Kings College London and Cambridge University found that people who recovered from severe Covid infections performed lower on reasoning and problem solving tests.
First author Dr Adam Hampshire said: “This research is all converging to indicate that there are some important effects of COVID-19 on the brain that need further investigation.”
Hampshire’s study did not look at effects of patients beyond the six month mark, meaning that future research is needed to draw long term conclusions.
Alzheimer’s UK reports that COVID-19 infections can worsen the progression of dementia, leading to more permanent cognitive decline.
The mechanism by which this occurs is not fully understood, but could be linked to the existing neurological symptoms associated with long Covid.
There are also mental effects of the pandemic that are caused by the policy and social changes it brought about.
Research is ongoing on the impact that two years of social isolation will have on mental health, social development and other aspects of the brain and mind.