Seven in ten long Covid patients experience concentration and memory problems several months after the initial onset of their disease, with many performing worse than their peers on cognitive tests, according to twin studies.
In the studies led by University of Cambridge, researchers showed that half of the patients reported difficulties in getting medical professionals to take their symptoms seriously. It was likely because cognitive symptoms do not get the same attention as lung problems or fatigue.
In a study of 181 long Covid patients, 78 per cent reported difficulty concentrating, 69 per cent reported brain fog, 68 per cent reported forgetfulness, and 60 per cent reported problems finding the right word in speech. These self-reported symptoms were reflected in significantly lower ability to remember words and pictures in cognitive tests.
Participants carried out multiple tasks to assess their decision-making and memory. These included remembering words in a list, and remembering which two images appeared together.
The results revealed a consistent pattern of ongoing memory problems in those who had suffered Covid-19 infection. Problems were more pronounced in people whose overall ongoing symptoms were more severe.
To help understand the cause of the cognitive issues, the researchers investigated other symptoms that might be linked.
They found that people who experienced fatigue and neurological symptoms, like dizziness and headache, during their initial illness were more likely to have cognitive symptoms later on. They also found that those who were still experiencing neurological symptoms were particularly impaired on cognitive tests.
The researchers noted that their results support other findings that suggest society will face a ‘long tail’ of workforce illness due to long Covid. It is therefore important not just for the sake of individuals, but for broader society, to be able to prevent, predict, identify and treat issues associated with long Covid.
“Long Covid has received very little attention politically or medically. It urgently needs to be taken more seriously, and cognitive issues are an important part of this. When politicians talk about aLiving with Covid’ – that is, unmitigated infection, this is something they ignore. The impact on the working population could be huge,” said Dr Lucy Cheke, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology.