Utilize a baseline test to uncover COVID brain fog

It’s been dubbed “COVID brain fog,” the neurological symptoms suffered by an estimated 80 percent of people who are hospitalized with COVID-19. These are early dementia-like neurological problems that patients face even after recovering from COVID-19, and there is a concern that people who recover from the disease have a higher risk of long-term cognitive decline.

We have always encouraged people age 50 and over to undergo a baseline cognitive assessment. During a pandemic that has been shown to affect cognitive function, our clinicians are trying to get the word out about this service to assess – and potentially help – people experiencing cognitive issues after COVID.

First, it’s important to understand why COVID-19 would affect the brain. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, and the biggest “customer” of the lungs is the brain. If it’s not receiving steady oxygen-rich blood, brain function may suffer. Viral illnesses such as COVID-19 also cause inflammation, which is another possible culprit in neurological changes.

By providing assessments for patients who have recovered from COVID-19, doctors can monitor changes in mental status.

The methodology used in memory screenings to detect cognitive issues can help physicians discover if a person’s cognitive health is normal for their age, or if there has been a decline related to the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia – or if there is another more likely cause such as medication side effect, vitamin deficiency, stress, diabetes mismanagement or, in the case of, post-COVID-19 effect, issues such as anxiety, PTSD, or depression – not uncommon in people who have had a brush with what they feared was a life-threatening illness.

By administering repeated assessments, doctors can help monitor a patients’ cognitive status over a short time frame, which can help them diagnose all conditions affecting cognition and intervene with appropriate treatment plans.

For example: high blood pressure, sleep disturbances, and anxiety can all lead to a loss of cognitive function – and are all treatable conditions, as is non-compliance with diabetic medication. By pinpointing the cause, physicians can better treat their patients and, in many cases, even reverse cognitive decline.

While we have yet to fully appreciate the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many things we can do to regain control of our health. Taking the time to get a baseline cognitive test might help you or your loved one better understand, and possibly breakthrough, the “COVID brain fog,” as well as be proactive in managing treatable and more chronic cognitive disorders.

Lauren Bennett is a clinical neuropsychologist, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Newport Beach, CA.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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