Survivors of COVID-19 could be at risk of lasting mental damage that in the worst cases triggers cognitive decline equivalent to aging 10 years or losing 8.5 IQ points, according to a new study by Imperial College London.
The “brain fog” that many survivors report experiencing in the weeks and months after recovering from the disease could be a symptom of more serious cognitive defects, according to the study of 84,285 people.
It found that damage to the brain afflicted survivors to varying degrees and was dependent on the severity of the disease. It is not yet clear how long the effect lasts.
The worst-impacted patients — those who required ventilation or were treated in intensive care — suffered an 8.5 IQ point drop, equivalent to aging 10 years.
Adam Hampshire, lead author of the study, warned that the “shocking” results did not only apply to patients who ended up in hospital.
People who recovered at home experienced an average deficit equivalent to aging five years or a drop of 4 IQ points, the study found.
“In real terms this is a large enough difference that as an individual you would notice an impact on the ability to cope with your normal job and everyday life,” Hampshire said.
“The results align with the ‘brain fog’ reported by many people who, even months after recovery, say they are unable to concentrate on work or focus how they did before.”
The study’s results are likely to further turn public and clinical attention to the long-term effects of contracting “long COVID,” the most common symptoms of which are reported anecdotally as chronic fatigue and weariness.