Covid-19 survivors may suffer from lower intelligence

Covid-19 survivors may suffer from lower intelligence

A study indicated that the level of cognitive underperformance is associated with the level of illness severity

Those Covid-19 patients who were hospitalized or placed on ventilators showed an average drop of seven IQ points. Credit: iStockPhoto

A new study published in The Lancet has determined that Covid-19 infection can negatively impact intelligence. Doctors in the city said the findings reflect what they have been seeing for months since the pandemic hit last year.

The study, which surveyed 81,337 people in the United Kingdom, found that people who have recovered from Covid-19 tend to score significantly lower on intelligence tests as opposed to those who have not contracted the virus. Common problems included completing tasks linked to problem-solving, reasoning and spatial planning.

At the same time, The Lancet study indicated that the level of cognitive underperformance is associated with the level of illness severity. Those Covid-19 patients who were hospitalized or placed on ventilators showed an average drop of seven IQ points. Those that were hospitalized but did not require ventilators performed marginally better. The deficit was larger among people who had previously suffered a stroke.

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This tallies with the experiences of 30-year-old Alina (name changed), a US citizen living in Bengaluru and employed as a coding engineer in the IT sector.

Neurologist Dr Abhinav Raina of Manipal Hospitals (Whitefield) said Alina had been hospitalized with Covid-19 on April 8 with mild symptoms. Nevertheless, she began experiencing cognitive problems after being discharged.

“One unusual symptom during hospitalization that she had was that she had a fever for about 10 days. Subsequently, after her discharge from the hospital in May, she began experiencing ‘brain fog’ or an inability to concentrate. This began impacting her work. She also suffered from mood swings,” Dr Raina said, adding that the condition has persisted despite three months having elapsed since the patient’s recovery.

The only medical treatments to treat the condition were neuro vitamins and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are antidepressants.

Many cases

Dr Jagadish Hiremath, Medical Director, Ace Suhas Multispeciality Hospital, said almost all Covid patients suffer neurological disability on a varying scale.

“Since Covid affects nerve cells, brain activity does slow a bit after a patient recovers from the disease. A majority of the patients show cognitive deficits after they recover from the infection. It affects their ability to remember names, be it people or places. It is a temporary problem and usually lasts for a period of three months,” he added.

Dr Raina specified that the problems may not be outwardly apparent to family and friends, but manifests itself in the workplace with the patient having less command on their skill sets.

In some people, the condition lasts longer than six months. “This is the case when there is direct brain involvement, such as in encephalitis, muscle and nerve damage, stroke, etc. There have been cases of professionals such as business people not being able to go back to work,” Raina said.

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