The study was conducted by researchers at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan who tested the neurocognitive abilities of former patients and analysed their MRI scans. The patients had been COVID-free for two months prior to testing and researchers found that many of them had been suffering from cognitive and behavioural issues including impaired memory, spatial awareness and information processing problems. The lead author of the study, Professor Massimo Filippi commented:
Our study has confirmed significant cognitive and behavioural problems are associated with COVID-19 and persist several months after remission of the disease.
Low executive function
According to their findings, more than half of the patients had experienced some form of cognitive disturbance. Of the half, 16% had trouble with executive function—which means that they had less control over the working memory, and had more difficulty with flexible thinking and information processing. They also found that this particular side effect was significantly worse in younger people. Professor Filippi added:
A particularly alarming finding is the changes to executive function we found, which can make it difficult for people to concentrate, plan, think flexibly and remember things. These symptoms affected three in 4 younger patients who were of a working age.
Furthermore, researchers noted that those who had severerespiratorysymptomsduring hospitalisation had low executive function performance as well.
More side effects
Another 6% had visuospatial problems that hindered their ability to judge depth and see contrast. An additional 6% of the group had impaired memory, and a substantial 25% had a combination of all these symptoms.
The findings also revealed that one in five patients had reported post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 16% were showing symptoms of depression.
The results were presented at the 7th Congress of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) but researchers admit that there is still a lot more work to be done. Dr. Elisa Canu, the first author of the study, said:
Larger studies and longer-term follow up are both needed, but this study suggests that COVID-19 is associated with significant cognitive and psychopathological problems.
Appropriate follow-up and treatments are crucial to ensure these previously hospitalised patients are given adequate support to help to alleviate these symptoms.