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Long-Term Brain Health Impact of COVID-19 Comparable to Other Severe Illnesses, Study Finds

New Research Reveals Insights into Cognitive, Psychiatric, and Neurological Outcomes After Severe Diseases

A groundbreaking study conducted in Copenhagen, Denmark, has shed light on the long-term effects of COVID-19 on brain health compared to other severe medical conditions. The comprehensive study, which spanned 18 months and involved 345 participants, discovered that while patients hospitalized with COVID-19 exhibited challenges in cognitive, psychiatric, and neurological functions, the impairment was no more significant than that seen in patients hospitalized for pneumonia, myocardial infarction, or critical non-COVID-19 illnesses of similar severity.

Key Findings:

  1. Cognitive Impairment: Patients with COVID-19 performed worse than healthy controls on cognitive tests, but their performance was comparable to hospitalized controls matched for age, sex, and disease severity.
  2. Psychiatric Impact: The study revealed higher anxiety and depression scores among COVID-19 patients compared to healthy controls, but no statistically significant difference compared to hospitalized controls.
  3. Neurological Outcomes: Patients with COVID-19 exhibited neurological soft signs more frequently than healthy controls, but the outcomes were similar to those hospitalized for other severe conditions.
  4. Longitudinal Trends: Cognitive scores among COVID-19 patients improved between hospital discharge and the 18-month follow-up, but slight declines were observed between the 6-month and 18-month follow-ups. Increased psychiatric diagnoses and neurological abnormalities were noted over time.

Study Implications: The findings challenge assumptions about COVID-19’s unique impact on brain health, suggesting that long-term associations might be linked to overall illness severity and hospitalization, rather than being specific to the virus. The study underscores the importance of considering multimorbidity in understanding lasting effects on brain health.

As the world grapples with the aftermath of the pandemic, this study contributes valuable insights that may shape future research and guide healthcare professionals in addressing the multifaceted impacts of severe illnesses on brain health.

Credit: JAMA Network Open, Costanza Peinkhofer