Severe COVID may age the brains of 20-year-old survivors: study | Health, Medicine and Fitness

Alan Mozes

FRIDAY, May 6, 2022 (HealthDay News) — A serious bout of COVID-19 can cause severe loss of brain power, new research warns, triggering a drop in IQ that’s equivalent to aging 50 to 70 years in months.

“Previous research has indicated that people who have recovered from COVID-19 may suffer long-lasting problems with their ability to concentrate and problem solve,” noted study author Adam Hampshire. He is an associate member of the UK Dementia Research Institute Care Research and Technology Centre, London.

“What we were trying to find out was how much these [thinking] difficulties were in patients who had been more seriously ill, what aspects of [thinking] were most affected, whether there were any signs of recovery over time and what the underlying cause might be,” Hampshire added.

To this end, the research team focused on a group of 46 UK patients who had been hospitalized with severe COVID-19 during the early months of the pandemic (March 2020 to July 2020). At the time, a third were so sick they had to be put on a mechanical ventilator.

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Mental health assessments conducted six months after the first hospitalization – by which time the initial viral infections had cleared – revealed a significant decline in memory and concentration abilities, as well as a noticeable slowdown in the ability to solve problems with precision and speed.

Patients were often very forgetful, Hampshire pointed out, struggling with the kind of “brain fog” that often made it difficult to find the words to express themselves.

In total, the study team found that post-COVID decreased brain capacity would likely translate to a 10-point drop in IQ.

Hampshire, who is also a professor of restorative neuroscience in the department of brain sciences at Imperial College London, said that although he expected to see some degree of persistent brain performance problems, he was “surprised by the magnitude of the [thinking] problems encountered by patients.

“The level of [thinking] the underperformance is similar to that seen when aging 50-70 years,” he noted.

Normally, “a person slows down significantly over those two decades,” Hampshire said. “But they also have a lot of time to adapt. For these patients, it must be a sudden shock. I expect some of them will never fully recover or be able to return to the work.”

So far, he said, the recovery has been “so slow that it is not statistically significant. That is, we could not confirm that there was a cognitive recovery over time, although at least a trend was there.”

As for what happens, Hampshire acknowledged that the jury is still out.

“The cause remains to be determined,” he said. “But our study indicates that it is more likely to be something that occurs during the initial illness as opposed to mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, after recovery. say that patients also show signs of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, but these seem to be distinct from the [thinking] problems.”

Going forward, Hampshire said it would be important to continue to follow these patients over a longer period of time to see who recovers or if recovery is even possible. In the meantime, however, “the truth is that at the moment we don’t know what will help them.”

The results were published in the May issue of the journal eClinicalMedicinand.

Dr. Colin Franz, a physician-scientist at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, said the findings were consistent with his own experience with COVID-19 survivors.

“As a doctor who regularly sees people post-COVID, I am not surprised that there are persistent mental health problems like memory or concentration in the months following hospitalization,” he said. declared. “This is one of the most common concerns that our ‘long COVID’ patients bring to us.”

The precise reason may vary from patient to patient, added Franz, who was not involved in the study.

“For example, in a person, it could be related to a problem with the very small blood vessels in the brain,” he noted. “But in another, they have persistent breathing problems that disrupt sleep and increase fatigue, which may play a role in poor test performance.”

Franz’s advice for those with lingering brain health issues post-COVID “is to seek help from a well-coordinated and comprehensive post-COVID clinic in your area,” whether it’s a program outpatient therapy or a personal physician.

There is more detailed information on the lasting impact of COVID at the American Psychological Association.

SOURCES: Adam Hampshire, PhD, Associate Member, UK Dementia Research Institute Care Research and Technology Centre, and Professor, Restorative Neuroscience, Department of Brain Sciences, Imperial College London; Colin Franz, MD, PhD, physician-scientist, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, Chicago, and assistant professor, physical medicine and rehabilitation and neurology, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago; eClinicalMedicineMay 2022, online

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