Covid-19 brain fog could make you less intelligent

Those who have already been infected with SARS-CoV-2 often report memory loss, difficulty concentrating and reasoning, as well as fatigue and mental confusion. These symptoms are known as Covid-19 'brain fog'. A new study has found that it is responsible for a considerable reduction in the IQ level of patients.

The conclusion is from REACT (Real-Time Assessment of Community Transmission), one of the largest studies into the prolonged effects of the disease, which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Covid-19 brain fog lowers IQ

  • During REACT, around 112,000 patients completed an online assessment on the cognitive effects of Covid-19.
  • The results showed that participants with long-term Covid-19 had an approximately 6-point drop in IQ compared to those without infection.
  • The greatest impact was detected on memory, spatial planning and verbal reasoning.
  • It was also found that the effects varied depending on the duration of the disease, the virus variant and hospitalization.
  • Among people who recovered quickly from the disease, there was a smaller reduction: about 3 points in IQ, compared to those who were not infected.
Image: New England Journal of Medicine

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Even though it seems small, the impact is big

In everyday life, a reduction in IQ of this size can be considered almost insignificant. Only a small proportion of patients will experience any more severe symptoms. However, according to researchers, if we consider the global scale of the pandemic, the situation is very different.

In an interview with New Atlas, scientists Ziyad Al-Aly and Clifford Rosen expressed their concerns that, as thousands of people have been infected, some more serious effects may appear in the long term.

It is unclear whether one group of people is more severely affected than others. Whether these cognitive deficits persist or disappear along the recovery trajectory. Will cognitive deficits associated with Covid-19 confer a predisposition for a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia later in life?

But it's not all bad news! Throughout the Covid-19 patient's recovery, only cognitive deficits similar to those of mild illness were detected. The cognitive impact appears to have decreased since the beginning of the pandemic, especially with the Ômicron strain. However, researchers say it is crucial to continue monitoring the long-term consequences of Covid-19.

About the evaluation

The research into Covid-19 brain fog is part of the REACT study, which has been following almost three million people in England since April 2020 to understand long-term Covid-19 symptoms.

This particular study examined nearly 112,000 participants, using scaled online assessments to measure cognitive aspects affected by the virus. It found that between 3% and 4% of participants had prolonged Covid-19 symptoms that lasted more than 12 weeks, with the majority still having symptoms even after a year.

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