A UK study has revealed that the impact of long COVID on individuals’ cognitive functions is comparable to the effects of aging them by 10 years. The research, conducted by King’s College London and published in The Lancet, examined the long-term effects of COVID-19 on people who had contracted the virus.
Over 3,000 participants were included in the study, recruited from the Covid Symptom Studio Biobank through a smartphone app. These individuals underwent two rounds of testing involving 12 tasks that measured their memory, attention, reasoning, processing speed, and motor control between 2021 and 2022.
The results showed that those who had experienced COVID-19 symptoms for 12 weeks or longer performed worse in these cognitive tasks compared to those with shorter symptom durations. The impact of long COVID on brain function was found to be equivalent to aging them by a decade.
Furthermore, the study indicated that the effects of long COVID persisted over time, as there was no improvement in the performance of participants with long COVID between 2021 and 2022, even though nine months had passed. This finding suggests that two years after being infected with COVID-19, individuals with long COVID still exhibited cognitive impairments.
However, the study also provided some encouraging news. Participants who considered themselves fully recovered from COVID-19 performed similarly to those who had never contracted the virus at all, indicating that their cognitive functions were not adversely affected.
Lead author Dr. Nathan Cheetham, a senior postdoctoral data scientist at King’s College London, emphasized the need to monitor individuals whose brain function is most impacted by COVID-19 to understand how their cognitive symptoms evolve and provide support for their recovery.
According to Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Director for Europe, around 36 million people across the European region may have experienced long COVID in the first three years of the pandemic. This highlights the importance of further research and support for those affected by the lingering cognitive effects of the virus.