A recent study by British researchers revealed that a severe Covid-19 infection might result in cognitive impairment equivalent to 20 years of aging with a drop of 10 IQ points. The study was carried out by the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London.
The researchers examined 46 people hospitalized with severe corona infections in the initial months of the virus being declared a pandemic, March to July 2020. Out of these, 16 patients were so sick they had to be intubated.
Six months after their hospitalization, the researchers conducted the first rigorous assessment on the aftereffects of severe corona infections via computerized cognitive tests. These tests analyzed mental faculties along with anxiety, depression and PTSD symptoms.
The results showed that, apart from brain fog and fatigue, majority of patients who recovered from the disease six months ago still suffered from problems with verbal analogical reasoning, insomnia, anxiety and PTSD. Comparison of the patients to 66,008 members of the general public revealed the strongest effects in were observed in those who were intubated, Daily News reported.
Study author Adam Hampshire, an associate of the UK Dementia Research Institute Care Research and Technology Centre, explained the reason behind conducting the study. "Previous research has indicated that people who have recovered from COVID-19 may suffer from lasting problems in terms of their ability to concentrate and problem solve," he said.
"What we were trying to find out was how pronounced these [thinking] difficulties were in patients who had been more severely ill, which aspects of [thinking] were most affected, whether there was any sign of recovery over time, and what the underlying cause might be," he added.
Hampshire, a professor of restorative neurosciences in the department of brain sciences at Imperial College London, said he was taken aback "by the scale of the [thinking] problems that the patients had." Even though he anticipated some levels of 'lingering' brain performance issues.
He mentioned that according to the results, the degree of brain performance was observed to be equivalent to that seen when aging from 50 to 70. In this twenty-year period a person normally slows down to some extent, but there is sufficient time allowing proper adjustment. However, in these patients "it must come as a sudden shock', Hampshire said. "I expect that some of them may not ever fully recover or be able to return to work," he added, according to US News.
There is gradual recovery observed in the patients as levels of brain performance have shown some improvement over time, but the researchers believe that any possible recovery is expected to be influenced by several factors such as the severity of the infection and its neurological or psychological impacts.
The Mint reported that the research is still underway to determine a strong cause behind these mental health problems. Hampshire and the research team speculates that it is more likely to be something that happens during the initial illness as opposed to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, after recovery. "That is, the patients also show signs of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, but these appear to be separate to the [thinking] problems."
The study also suggested that patients who recovered from Covid-19 with milder symptoms may also suffer from somewhat similar problems. The research findings were published in the May issue of the journal eClinicalMedicine.