U.K. study: Severe COVID-19 cases may age brain by 10 years – SFGate

A new British study has found that patients who recovered from severe cases of COVID-19 may suffer a mental decline equivalent to the brain aging 10 years.

The non-peer-reviewed paper by scientists at Imperial College London was published this month on the MedRxiv preprint website. The researchers tested the cognitive abilities of more than 84,000 suspected or confirmed patients after controlling for other factors such as age, gender and pre-existing medical conditions.

The test used in the study, the Great British Intelligence Test, measures brain performance in tasks like puzzles, problem solving and remembering words.

“Individuals who recovered from suspected or confirmed COVID-19 perform worse on cognitive tests in multiple domains than would be expected given their detailed age and demographic profiles,” the authors wrote.

The cognitive deficits were most pronounced in previously hospitalized patients, especially those who had been on ventilator support, whose performance was “equivalent to the average 10-year decline in global performance between the ages of 20 to 70.”

Patients who stayed at home with respiratory symptoms or mild symptoms without breathing problems showed a small decline in mental function.

“Although these deficits were on average of small scale for those who remained at home, they were more substantial for people who had received positive confirmation of COVID-19 infection,” the authors wrote.

The study’s findings support a growing body of evidence that COVID-19 can cause long-term health changes beyond the initial symptoms.

The scientists wrote that their analyses “align with the view that there are chronic cognitive consequences of having COVID-19” and called for more detailed research.

Some of their peers advised caution.

“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,” Joanna Wardlaw, a professor of applied neuroimaging at Edinburgh University, told Reuters.

Derek Hill, a professor of medical imaging science at University College London, called the research “intriguing but inconclusive.”

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