New findings from a large-scale study conducted in the United Kingdom suggest that infection with COVID-19 can negatively affect intelligence on a large scale, a finding that is consistent with reports of “brain fog” among long-haul COVID-19 travelers.
In the year studied, researchers assessed the scores of 81,337 people who took the Great British Intelligence Test. The total number of people infected with COVID-19 was 13,500, and test results were submitted both at the time of infection and afterward by 275 of them.
COVID-19 May Erode Intelligence, Study Finds
The authors report that those who have previously been exposed to the Coronavirus had more difficulty with reasoning tasks, problem-solving tasks, and spatial planning tasks. Additionally, to control for age, education, and mood, researchers also controlled for lifestyle factors.
It is consistent with reports of long-COVID patients who have difficulty concentrating, having trouble finding the correct words, and a sense of brain fog. Comeback from a COVID-19 infection might produce particularly prominent problems in areas like higher cognitive function and executive function, they added.
Neither working memory nor emotional processing appeared to be impaired.
Depending on how severe the infection was, the cognitive decline may have been more severe. They discovered that patients who had been ventilated while ill were most likely to experience side effects. The drop in IQ points averaged 7 points per person. It was noted that the deficit had considerable size, the authors wrote. The experts said that more brain imaging is necessary before concluding anything.
They added that it is important to be cautious in inferring a logical or psychological explanation of the observed deficits without actual cognitive imaging data, even though the assessment tasks demonstrated that various networks within the human brain were involved in terms of normal functional activity and connectivity as well as structural damage.
It is possible that the cognitive decline was caused by high fever and respiratory problems. The study found that only 4.8% of participants with lingering symptoms reported them; these symptoms had mostly disappeared by the time the study began.
Researchers present insight into a part of post-COVID, an illness and condition closely monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately three months after being infected, it may be difficult to think, concentrate, have dizziness, have a headache, joint pain, and shortness of breath, among other symptoms.
The possibility of cognitive repercussions of COVID-19 is becoming increasingly concerning, as ‘Long COVID’ symptoms have persisted into the chronic phase, and case studies have revealed neurological impairments in severely affected patients. Unfortunately, there is limited information about the nature and severity of cognitive problems associated with infections, or cognitive problems across disease severity distributions.
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Those who recovered fully from COVID-19, including those no longer reporting symptoms, showed much greater cognitive deficits compared to controls even after accounting for age, gender, education level, income, race/ethnicity, pre-existing medical conditions, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Almost half of the patients (192) who had COVID-19 infections were hospitalized, but almost half had no evidence of hospitalization (326), and the deficits for those who had no biological confirmation of infection were substantial. These differences appeared not to be present prior to infection based on analysis of markers of premorbid intelligence. COVID-19’s impact on human cognition appears to be multi-domain based on a finer-grained analysis of performance across subtests.
These results are consistent with the cognitive symptoms experienced by patients with Long-Covidien dementia that persist into the early chronic stages. SARS-COV-2 survivors should consider those findings as clarion calls for further longitudinal and neuroimaging research to determine their recovery trajectory and the biological basis of cognitive deficits.