The Hidden Long-Term Cognitive Effects of COVID-19

More American lives have been lost due to the coronavirus than the total casualties of World War 1, the Vietnam War and the Korean War combined. While most of these deaths have been caused by pulmonary complications of the disease, new evidence reveals that the virus also attacks the nervous system. In one study, doctors found that 40% of patients with COVID-19 exhibited neurological symptoms and 30% had impaired cognition, according to experts at Harvard Medical School.

These neurological complications by themselves can be deadly. However, researchers are concerned that even if patients recover from the disease, they may suffer long-term brain damage. Andrew E. Budson, M.D., who lectures in neurology at Harvard Medical School, said there is “increasing evidence that there may be mild — but very real — brain damage that occurs in many survivors, causing pervasive yet subtle cognitive, behavioral and psychological problems.”

According to a British study, the virus can cause encephalitis by attacking the brain directly. It can also trigger strokes, particularly among older people according to another Canadian study. Another major cause of brain damage is lack of oxygen. According to The National Interest, the pathogen starves cells of life-giving oxygen, causing them to wither and die. For some individuals, this results in death.

Budson added that for COVID-19 patients who survive intensive care, one-third show a “profound degree of cognitive impairment.” This can disrupt everyday life by affecting memory, attention, and impacting the ability to carry on normal activities such as paying bills, managing medication, or even socializing with friends.

Chinese researchers discovered that even patients who had mild cases of COVID-19 and were thought to have fully recovered suffered mild brain damage such as attention deficit disorders. They suspected that some of these patients may have suffered “silent strokes” that damage the brain.

Budson noted that silent strokes are a risk factor for dementia and larger strokes in the future. He suggested that professionals in fields of responsibility such as those in medical care, financial planning, and even political leaders, be evaluated with neuropsychological testing to ensure their cognition has not been compromised by COVID-19.

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