Study compares COVID-19 cognitive effects to 20 years of natural brain aging

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Study compares COVID-19 cognitive effects to 20 years of natural brain aging

A small study published in eClinicalMedicine reported that cognitive impairment caused by severe COVID is equivalent to 20 years of aging or the loss of 10 IQ points.

The study was led by researchers at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London.

The researchers analyzed 46 COVID-19 patients who survived after receiving critical care at a hospital in Cambridge, England. Sixteen of those patients required mechanical ventilation.

Each of the patients underwent comprehensive cognitive assessments that involved measures of memory, attention, and reasoning, as well as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Researchers compared data from their assessments to matched controls.

Overall, severe COVID-19 survivors were less accurate and had slower response times, researchers found. The cognitive effects were strongest among patients who required mechanical ventilation. The research team also found the effects were still detectable six months after acute illness.

They estimated the magnitude of cognitive impairment is similar to the loss experienced between ages 50 and 70 — comparable to 20 years of aging.

“Tens of thousands of people have been through intensive care with COVID-19 in England alone, and many more will have been very sick but not admitted to hospital,” said Adam Hampshire, study author and professor in the department of brain sciences at Imperial College London.

“This means there are a large number of people out there still experiencing problems with cognition many months later. We urgently need to look at what can be done to help these people.”

Patients in the study had detailed assessments for cognitive ability and mental health, and those who had survived a severe coronavirus infection – especially those who had been on mechanical ventilation – showed slower response times and were less accurate in their testing.

Although this is considered preliminary research, it does suggest yet another reason to be fully vaccinated and if indicated, boosted, against COVID infection. Vaccination is by far the best way to prevent long-COVID, severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID.

This blog was accurate as of the day of posting. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus and the COVID vaccine develops, the information above may have changed since it was last updated. While I aim to keep all of my blogs on COVID and the COVID vaccine up to date, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news.

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2022. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.


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