A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) reveals that individuals with symptomatic long Covid may encounter cognitive difficulties, including memory problems.
Long Covid refers to the persistent symptoms experienced by individuals for more than four weeks after the initial infection of the disease.
The study highlights that over one in three individuals with long Covid symptoms reported self-perceived cognitive deficits, which have been associated with anxiety and depression.
These findings, recently published in the journal JAMA Network Open, suggest that psychological factors such as anxiety and depressive disorders may contribute to the experiences of individuals with long Covid, also known as post-Covid-19 condition or PCC.
“This perception of cognitive deficits suggests that affective issues—in this case anxiety and depression—appear to carry over into the long Covid period,” said study senior author Neil Wenger, a professor at UCLA.
“This is not to say that long Covid is all in one’s head, but that it is likely not a single condition and that for some proportion of patients there is likely a component of anxiety or depression that is exacerbated by the disease,” Wenger said in a statement.
In their study, the researchers conducted a survey involving 766 patients who had confirmed symptomatic Covid infection. These patients had either been hospitalised at UCLA or at one of 20 healthcare facilities in the US, or they were referred to the programme by a primary care physician and received outpatient treatment.
The survey was conducted via telephone at three different time points: 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days following hospital discharge or, for non-hospitalised patients, after the date of a positive Covid test.
The purpose of the survey was to determine if the patients felt their health had returned to normal. The results showed that 276 out of the surveyed patients (36.1 per cent) reported experiencing cognitive difficulties either during the acute illness or in the weeks following it.
Additionally, the study revealed that patients who perceived cognitive deficits were twice as likely as those without such deficits to report experiencing physical symptoms at 60 and 90 days.
However, the researchers acknowledged certain limitations to their findings. One limitation is the absence of objective measures for assessing cognition, as the survey relied solely on subjective responses regarding cognitive deficits.
Furthermore, the study did not possess data regarding participants’ pre-existing cognition, depression, and anxiety prior to contracting Covid-19.
The researchers also noted that the findings might not be applicable to other patient groups, as the participants in this study received treatment at an academic medical centre and were specifically referred to the programme based on physicians’ belief that they were at a clinically high risk for cognitive deficits.