Understanding and Addressing Cognitive Dysfunction in Long Covid Patients

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Dr. Jessica Nelson
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Understanding and Addressing Cognitive Dysfunction in Long Covid Patients

Overview of Cognitive Dysfunction in Long Covid Patients

Cognitive problems are a common occurrence after acute SARS-CoV-2 infection and can have disabling and frightening effects on individuals. These symptoms can severely impact the daily functioning and quality of life of those affected. Doctors are facing the challenge of approaching cognitive dysfunction in patients with #LongCovid, as the long-term effects of the virus on cognitive function are still being understood. It is important for healthcare professionals to closely monitor and assess cognitive symptoms in patients with Long Covid, and to provide appropriate support and interventions to address these issues.

Unveiling the Unseen Fallout: Studies and Findings

A study aimed to quantify cognitive deficits in patients with post-acute sequelae of Covid-19 (PASC) and identify key variables related to cognitive impairment in PASC. The study found that patients with PASC were almost 4 times more likely to evidence cognitive dysfunction compared to normal controls, with 44% of patients demonstrating cognitive deficits about 7 months from infection. Higher Body Mass Index (BMI) was the only metric shown to differentiate those with PASC and cognitive impairment from those with PASC who were cognitively intact.

A recent study published in the journal EClinicalMedicine by a team of scientists from Germany assessed the long-term trajectories of sequelae of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infections such as cognitive deficits and fatigue. The study included 3,000 patients and found that while both symptoms showed improvements over a span of two years in approximately 50% of the patients, specific risk factors such as depressive symptoms and headache predicted non-recovery from fatigue in the long term. Old age and male sex were two of the risk factors indicating non-recovery from cognitive deficits in long COVID patients.

A study on the relationship between systemic inflammation and neuroaxonal damage in patients with severe COVID-19 and its impact on long-term cognitive impairment was conducted. The study found that prolonged systemic inflammation in critically ill COVID-19 patients is related to neuroaxonal damage and subsequent long-term cognitive impairment. Plasma NfL concentrations during ICU stay may possess prognostic value in predicting future long-term cognitive impairment in patients that survived severe COVID-19.

Long COVID as a Viral-Borne Brain Injury

A new study has found that patients with long COVID may be suffering from a viral borne brain injury that causes cognitive and mental health issues that persist for years. The study found that 35% of patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 had evidence of a long-term brain injury a year after contracting the virus. Elevated levels of certain biomarkers were consistent with a brain injury, and brain scans showed reduced volume in certain regions of the brain associated with attention. Patients also suffered from mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder. The brain deficits found in COVID-19 patients were equivalent to 20 years of brain aging.

Some patients reported negative interactions with their healthcare providers when seeking treatment for long COVID symptoms. Previous research has suggested that brain injuries might be the result of a lack of oxygen to the brain, and brain scans have shown atrophy likely caused by inflammation from a heightened immune response. The study also found some neuroprotective effects of using steroids during hospitalization to reduce brain inflammation. Treatments used for patients with brain injuries have been shown to be effective in treating long COVID-related brain fog symptoms, including speech, cognitive, and occupational therapy.

There is also a concern that the enduring brain injury from long COVID may cause the early onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease in those who were already vulnerable to it. A new study has revealed that patients with long COVID could experience cognitive deficits and mental health issues due to a viral-borne brain injury. They reported cognitive impairments, memory problems, and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Additionally, there are rising concerns about potential long-term implications, including the early onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies have also shown cognitive slowing, neuropsychiatric symptoms, and cognitive deficits in COVID-19 survivors, highlighting the need for further research and support for long COVID patients.