Have you noticed cognitive or behavioural changes? New signs of past Covid infection

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The coronavirus pandemic appears to be abating in many developed countries, thanks to a hugely successful vaccination campaign. However, the fight against COVID-19 is starting to take place on a different front. Resources are now being devoted to the long-term effects of COVID-19.

A new study presented at the 7th Congress of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) found COVID-19 patients suffered from cognitive and behavioural problems two months after being discharged from hospital.

Specific issues included impaired memory, spatial awareness and information processing problems.

The research also found that one in five patients reported post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with 16 percent presenting depressive symptoms.

The study, conducted in Italy, involved testing neurocognitive abilities and taking MRI brain scans of patients two months after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

More than 50 percent of patients experienced cognitive disturbances; 16 percent had problems with executive function (governing working memory, flexible thinking, and information processing) and six percent experienced visuospatial problems (difficulties judging depth and seeing contrast).

What’s more, six percent had impaired memory and 25 percent manifested a combination of all these symptoms.

Cognitive and psychopathological problems were also much worse in younger people, with the majority of patients aged under 50 demonstrating issues with executive functions.

A consistent finding among the patients was that greater severity of COVID-19 acute respiratory symptoms during hospital admission was associated with low executive function performance.

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Additionally, a study observation of the same cohort at 10 months from COVID-19 infection showed a reduction of cognitive disturbances from 53 to 36 percent, but a persisting presence of PTSD and depressive symptoms.

Lead author of the study, professor Massimo Filippi, from the Scientific Institute and University Vita-Salute San Raffaele, Milan, Italy, commented on the findings: “Our study has confirmed significant cognitive and behavioural problems are associated with COVID-19 and persist several months after remission of the disease.”

“A particularly alarming finding is the changes to executive function we found, which can make it difficult for people to concentrate, plan, think flexibly and remember things. These symptoms affected three in 4 younger patients who were of a working age”.

No significant relationship was observed between cognitive performance and brain volume within the study.

“Larger studies and longer-term follow up are both needed, but this study suggests that COVID-19 is associated with significant cognitive and psychopathological problems”, concluded Dr Canu, Researcher at the San Raffaele Hospital of Milan and first author of the study.

“Appropriate follow-up and treatments are crucial to ensure these previously hospitalised patients are given adequate support to help to alleviate these symptoms.”

The study is one of four scientific presentations on the neurological symptoms of COVID-19 presented at the EAN congress.

Another research contribution, led by Dr Mattia Pozzato of the Osperdale Maggiore Policlinico in Milan, found 77.4 percent of 53 patients reported developing at least one neurological symptom and 46.3 percent presented with more than three neurological symptoms between five to 10 months after being hospitalised with COVID-19.

The most common of these symptoms were insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and walking difficulties.

Other less frequent symptoms included headaches, hyposmia (a reduced ability to smell) and hypogeusia (loss of taste).

The authors concluded 90 percent of patients had post-COVID-19 symptoms, and that neurological symptoms form a significant part of these.

What’s more, a research project presented by Professor Tamara S. Mischenko, Head of the Department of Neurology and Medical Psychology at Karazin University, Ukraine, followed up 42 patients aged 32 to 54 after being hospitalised with COVID-19 after two to four months, finding that 95 percent had neurocognitive impairment symptoms.

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