People recovering from Covid-19 could suffer considerable impacts on brain function, and the worst cases of infection linked to mental decline are equivalent to a 10-year aging of the brain, researchers warned Tuesday.
Not yet submitted to the scientific community, a study of more than 84,000 people under the command of Adam Hampshire, a doctor at Imperial College London, found that, in some serious cases, coronavirus infection is linked to considerable cognitive deficits that last for months .
“Our analyzes … align with the view that there are chronic cognitive consequences of contracting Covid-19,” the researchers wrote in a report on their findings. “People who have recovered, including those who no longer report symptoms, exhibited significant cognitive deficits.”
Cognitive tests measure how well the brain performs tasks, such as remembering words or stitching together a puzzle. Such tests are widely used to assess brain performance in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and can also help doctors assess temporary brain deficiencies.
Hampshire’s team analyzed the results of 84,285 people who completed a study called the Great British Intelligence Exam. The conclusions, which have yet to be verified by other experts, have been published on the MedRxix website.
Cognitive deficits were “of significant effect size”, particularly among people who were hospitalized with Covid-19, the researchers said, and the worst cases showed impacts “equivalent to the average 10-year decline in global performance between 20 and 70. years”.
But scientists with no direct involvement in the study said the results should be viewed with some caution.
“The participants’ cognitive function was not known before Covid, and the results also do not reflect long-term recovery, so any effects on cognition may be short-term,” said Joanna Wardlaw, professor of applied neuroimaging at the University of Edinburgh .
Derek Hill, professor of medical imaging science at University College London, also noted that the study’s findings cannot be entirely reliable, as they did not compare figures from before and after and involved a large number of people who claimed to have had Covid-19 on their own without being diagnosed.
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