The Impact of COVID-19 On Cognition

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about new challenges across all components of the medical field. Clinical providers are learning about how COVID-19 has impacted the brain in survivors. Severe cases of COVID-19 have resulted in neuropsychological impairments. Jawant et al. (2021) studied 57 recovered patients from a New York City hospital. In this blog post, we elaborate on the study and what researchers have uncovered regarding the impact of COVID-19 on cognitive functioning.

Fifty-seven participants who recovered from COVID-19 were studied to learn about the potential impacts of COVID-19 on the brain and cognitive functioning. A majority of these patients (77%) had received oxygen support prior to neuropsychological assessment. The recovered participants had a mean age of about 64 years of age, which is the demographic of people largely impacted by COVID-19.

80% of the participants in the study experienced cognitive impairment. Participants who experienced delirium during hospitalization were more likely to experience more significant cognitive impairment than those who didn’t. Causes of cognitive impairment related to COVID-19 are multifactorial, as patients who recovered may have experienced lack of oxygen, disruption to the blood-brain barrier, inflammation, infection of neural tissue, as well as drug treatments used during hospitalization.

Cognitive deficits experienced by survivors of COVID-19 include working memory, shifting, divided attention, and processing speed. The Brief Memory and Executive Test was used to assess participants in the study. This assessment includes multiple subsections which assess memory and executive functioning that are sensitive to impairments.

As we learn more through time about how COVID-19 has impacted our lives and health, clinical providers are beginning to uncover a need for assessment and rehabilitation of cognitive functioning in recovered patients. Neuropsychologists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and other professionals will likely be involved in the long-term care of recovered COVID-19 patients who experience cognitive difficulties. These clinicians can provide cognitive rehabilitation services, either remotely or in-person, depending on the circumstances. 

Conclusion

Cognitive functioning has been shown to be impaired in some patients who have recovered from COVID-19. However, more research is needed to understand better the variations of impairments that recovered patients may experience. These patients will likely need cognitive remediation therapy services, which can be provided by a licensed clinical provider such as a neuropsychologist, occupational therapist, or speech-language pathologist.  Clinicians may want to conduct thorough assessments of clients who have recovered from COVID-19 to detect any cognitive deficits that may be present. From what has been studied, researchers have uncovered that patients who have recovered from COVID-19 are reported to experience difficulty in working memory, attention, executive functioning, and processing speed. These areas of cognition can be addressed during cognitive remediation therapy using digital tools and cognitive worksheets. 

Source: 
Jaywant A, Vanderlind WM, Alexopoulos GS, Fridman CB, Perlis RH, Gunning FM. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2021:1–6. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-021-00978-8.
Christine Campbell

Christine is HappyNeuron Pro’s Marketing Specialist. People with intellectual disabilities have a special place in her heart. Growing up with a sibling with an autism diagnosis and intellectual disability influenced the way she views life. She is passionate about educating people about health and sharing cognitive tips.

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