COVID-19 May Cause Brain Aging or PTSD

Most of us are concerned about the present dangers of COVID-19. Will I get it? Will my family? Will I go to the hospital? Go to the ICU? Be on a ventilator? Will I survive? It’s a scary virus. And we’ve heard about people’s difficult recovery periods as they get over COVID-19. What we haven’t heard about as much is the toll COVID-19 takes on the brain.
 
Some symptoms of COVID-19 linger longer than others,” says Dr. Joshua Septimus, medical director of Houston Methodist Primary Care Group Same Day Clinics. “In particular, fatigue and loss of taste and smell can persist beyond the period of contagion.”
 
There is also “brain fog.” People have trouble concentrating, are tired, anxious, experience headaches and sleeping problems. Some researchers think it could be post-traumatic stress disorder. People are distressed by the fact that they had COVID-19 and the treatment. They have to recover from it mentally as well as physically.

Once they have treatment, and hopefully have some remission of their psychiatric symptoms, if the cognitive complaints and the deficits on neuropsychological tests are still there, then that’s more evidence that something else is going on,” said Erin Kaseda, of Rosalind Franklin Univ. of Medicine and Science, who is studying it.
 
Other researchers don’t think it’s PTSD. They think it’s actual brain aging. Scientists tested 84,000 COVID-19 patients. They found that their brains appeared to have had a mental decline equivalent to 10 years of aging. They gave people tests to challenge their brain’s performance: remembering words, solving puzzles and logic problems. People who had been in hospital, between the ages of 20 and 70, performed as though their brains were ten years older. People who stayed home were also worse off but not as badly.
 
The study hasn’t been reviewed yet, and some people doubt it. Joanna Wardlaw, a professor of applied neuroimaging at Edinburgh Univ., said, “The cognitive function of the participants was not known pre-COVID, and the results also do not reflect long-term recovery — so any effects on cognition may be short-term.”
 
Following up with those same people several months from now might give different results. It could be that this brain aging they think they are seeing is the PTSD the other researchers believe they are seeing. It could be distress that is causing people to perform poorly. Right now, there isn’t enough data to say that either is conclusive.
 
What is obvious is that the effects of COVID-19 are far-reaching. It impacts all parts of the body. It has immediate dangers and causes lingering damage. Without a vaccine on the market, we have no way to protect ourselves except social distancing, washing our hands and masks. On Wednesday, we broke a record with over 100,000 new cases in the U.S. So, with all this in mind, protect yourself and be careful. We will have a vaccine, there will be more answers, but we have to follow the known precautions that work right now.

Banner image: Natasha Connell via Unsplash
November 06, 2020
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