The results of a recent study may provide new clues into what may cause cognitive declines in people who have recovered from COVID-19. A growing number of patients are reporting issues concentrating, thinking clearly, and completing routine tasks months after testing positive for the virus. Scientists have been trying to determine what causes the symptoms, which have been described as "brain fog."
"They manifest as problems remembering recent events, coming up with names or words, staying focused, and issues with holding onto and manipulating information, as well as slowed processing speed," said senior author Joanna Hellmuth, MD, MHS, of the UCSF Memory and Aging Center.
Now, researchers from UC San Francisco and Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, believe they may have an answer.
After analyzing the spinal fluid of volunteers, they found that 77% of the participants who reported suffering from cognitive decline had "anomalies in their cerebrospinal fluid." The spinal fluid was normal in the participants who reported no long-term mental effects since recovering from COVID-19.
"It's possible that the immune system, stimulated by the virus, may be functioning in an unintended pathological way," Hellmuth said. "This would be the case even though the individuals did not have the virus in their bodies."
They noted that those who suffered from cognitive decline were more likely to have risk factors for severe complications from COVID, including diabetes, hypertension, a history of ADHD, anxiety, depression, a history of heavy alcohol or stimulant use, and learning disabilities.