Long COVID linked to cognitive and mental problems, study shows

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In a study from the University of Waterloo and elsewhere, scientists found that long COVID is associated with reduced brain oxygen levels, worse performance on cognitive tests, and increased psychiatric symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

Researchers combined the results of two new parallel studies: a laboratory study involving cognitive testing and imaging of oxygen levels in the brain, and a national population survey of Canadians in 2021 and 2022.

The laboratory study found that individuals who had experienced symptomatic COVID-19 illness performed worse on two computer tasks. One is measuring inhibition and another impulsive decision-making.

Compared to those who had not been infected, people who had been infected showed a lack of increase in oxygen saturation in an area of the brain that is normally engaged during one of the tasks.

The second study in this paper, a population survey of more than 2,000 Canadians aged 18 to 56, examined the relationships among COVID, cognitive function, and psychiatric symptoms.

The team found respondents who had COVID reported difficulty concentrating and problems with inhibition, as well as increased symptoms of anxiety and depression.

These effects appeared to be marginally stronger among unvaccinated individuals and were still detectable after controlling for how long ago respondents were infected.

Previous studies have shown a link between COVID and test performance, self-reported cognitive symptoms, and differences in brain structure measured by MRI, but not oxygenation changes in the brain.

Older women were more affected than others in the case of brain imaging outcomes.

The team says COVID-19 infection is correlated with increased problems with emotion regulation six months later: depression, anxiety, and agitation.

The studies were conducted during earlier waves of the pandemic. The researchers did not examine whether Omicron and later variants have the same effects on the brain as earlier variants.

If you care about Covid, please read studies about antibodies that block all the COVID-19 variants, and people over 50 years old may get shingles after COVID-19.

For more information about health, please see recent studies that common asthma drugs may help treat COVID-19, and results showing scientists find the cause of long COVID ‘brain fog’.

The study was conducted by Dr. Peter Hall et al and published in Brain, Behavior, & Immunity—Health.

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