Long-term COVID-19 side effects could include memory loss and other cognitive dysfunctions, commonly labelled as “brain fog,” according to a study released on Friday that looked at 740 patients in the Mount Sinai Health System.
The study, which was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA Network Open, analyzed patients who contracted COVID-19, not people who only received the COVID-19 vaccine.
The most common cognitive deficits the study identified were memory encoding and memory recall, which showed up in 24% and 23% of the participants, respectively.
Memory encoding is the process of storing sensory input as a memory, such as storing a phone number in your head by repeating it out loud a few times. Memory recall refers to accessing memories that are stored already and retrieving them for use.
The study utilized the Hopkins Verbal Learning Test to show participants a series of words in different categories and see how many they could recall. Another test, called the Number Span test, would see how many digits someone could recall from memory after seeing a screen of them.
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Other common side effects included processing speed (the time it takes someone to perform a mental task), executive functioning (associated with setting and completing goals) and phonemic and category fluency (ability to come up with words based on certain criteria).
An example of phonemic fluency is asking participants to come up with as many words that start with a “C” as possible, while category fluency involves asking them to list words related to a category, like animals, according to Oxford’s Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology.
Hospitalized patients were much more likely than non-hospitalized patients to struggle with attention, executive functioning, category fluency, memory encoding and memory recall.
Another study that documented “brain fog” was published by Oxford University and the National Institute for Health Research study earlier in October. Cognitive symptoms were seen in about 8% of patients and were more common among the elderly.
The study also found common lingering symptoms, such as trouble breathing, abdominal issues, fatigue, pain, anxiety and depression.
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