A new study in Argentina is investigating the brains of virus survivors – scientists are finding that 60% of participants have difficulty thinking after COVID
The long-term impacts of COVID-19 are something that the whole globe is yet to reckon with. Long COVID, obscurely feared and life-changing, is a different matter. Here, we are talking about the moderate to severe experience of COVID that finishes as soon as it finishes.
Scientists are beginning, over a year after the beginning of the virus, to look at impacts spanning from future organ failure to cognitive changes.
60% of people have difficulty thinking after COVID
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio reported on 29 July, at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, that the virus was causing a difficulty in thinking for 60% of people who survive COVID-19.
Gabriel de Erausquin, MD, PhD, a neurologist with the health science center’s Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases, said: “Problems with thinking were seen even in recovered COVID-19 patients who had only a mild cold or respiratory ailment after virus exposure.”
The participants were over 60 years of age, and will be followed for the next three to five years. Over 400 adults in Argentina were involved in the study. Of them, 60% who had recovered from the virus, displayed some degree of cognitive impairment.
One in three had severe “dementia-like” issues
Dr de Erausquin further explained: “Persistent lack of smell is associated with brain changes. Once the virus has affected the olfactory bulb and caused effects there – changes that we can see with imaging – then other places in the brain that are connected to it also become abnormal, either in function or structure or both.”
The study team also assessed participants for anosmia, loss of the sense of smell. The olfactory bulb, which contains the brain cells that react to smell, is primarily where the COVID-19 virus enters the nervous system.
Of the 60% of recovered COVID-19 patients who had cognitive impairment, about one in three had severe cognitive impairment, Dr de Erausquin said. This could be called a “dementia-like syndrome,” because it appears like dementia – but may not be persistent or progressive.
The study is still ongoing, but reported these initial results.