According to a study by the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London, cognitive impairment resulting from severe COVID-19 is, on average, similar to that experienced during the aging process between the ages of 50 and 70.
This level of brain aging is equivalent to losing 10 IQ points.
These findings were more likely to occur in people who were treated in hospital with the coronavirus, and especially those who were put on a ventilator.
The cognitive footprint of COVID
Although cognitive impairment is common in neurological disorders, including dementia, researchers have found that COVID-19 has a distinct “cognitive fingerprint” from other brain diseases.
The researchers found that these impairments remained detectable more than six months after recovery from the viral illness, and it appears that “all recovery is gradual at best”.
The results is the latest evidence that COVID-19 can cause lasting cognitive and mental health problems, with recovered patients reporting symptoms such as fatigue, “brain fog”, problems remembering words, sleep disturbances, anxiety and even stress disorder trauma (PTSD) months after infection.
Less severe cases are vulnerable
Like The new daily reported in March, people who suffer from even mild symptoms of COVID-19 were found to lose up to 2% of their brain’s gray matter, according to research from Oxford.
The researchers also found tissue damage in parts of the brain, suggesting that the brains of some people infected with COVID-19 are experiencing accelerated aging, at least temporarily.
The results also indicate that COVID-19 may be a new type of neurodegenerative disease. In other words, this shrinkage can, in some cases at least, be a permanent problem.
The new study
The researchers recruited 46 patients, aged 28 to 83, who were hospitalized between March 10 and July 31, 2020.
Sixteen of these patients were placed on mechanical ventilation.
Patients underwent detailed computerized cognitive testing approximately six months after their acute illness using the Cognitron platform – an artificial intelligence tool designed by Imperial College to model human mental skills.
It measures different aspects of mental faculties, such as memory, attention and reasoning.
Patient results were compared to a matched control group.
COVID-19 patients were less accurate and had slower response times than the matched control population – “and these deficits were still detectable when patients followed up six months later.”
It was by comparing the patients to 66,008 people from the general public that the researchers estimated that the extent of cognitive loss was “similar on average to that experienced with aging from 20 years, between 50 and 70 years, and that this is equivalent to losing 10 IQ points”.
Out of words
Patients who have survived severe COVID-19 typically report difficulty finding words in conversation. The results confirmed these anecdotal reports.
They also showed “slower processing speeds, consistent with previous post-COVID-19 observations of decreased cerebral glucose uptake in the brain’s frontoparietal network, responsible for attention, complex problem solving and working memory, among other functions”.
Professor David Menon from Cambridge University’s Division of Anesthesia, lead author of the study, said patients’ scores and reaction times started to improve over time – but any recovery cognitive faculties was progressive at best and likely to be influenced by the disease. severity and its neurological or psychological effects.
Professor Menon said: ‘We followed some patients up to 10 months after their acute infection, so we could see very slow improvement. Although this is not statistically significant, it is at least going in the right direction, but it is very possible that some of these people will never fully recover.
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