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Daily Dose: Brain Function Changes in Persons with Long COVID


Patient Care brings primary care clinicians a lot of medical news every day—it’s easy to miss an important study. The Daily Dose provides a concise summary of one of the website's leading stories you may not have seen.

On May 1, 2023, we reported on a study published in the journal Neurology that used blood-oxygenation-level-dependent functional MRI (BOLD-fMRI) to determine whether persons with long COVID had abnormal brain activation during working memory, and whether the abnormal brain activation could predict cognitive performance, motor function, or psychiatric symptoms.

The study

Researchers identified 29 people who had COVID-19 an average of 7 months earlier and had at least 1 persistent neuropsychiatric symptom (eg, memory loss, depression, anxiety). Of these, 9 had experience infection serious enough to require hospitalization. The researchers compared this group with 21 healthy volunteers who had no history of COVID and were matched for age, health status, vaccination status and a range of sociodemographic factors.

Participants in both groups completed a battery of tests that assessed cognitive skills, emotional health, and motor function and were evaluated for symptoms of fatigue, depression, anxiety, and pain. All participants underwent BOLD-fMRI scans while performing tasks that required use of working memory, allowing the research team to observe brain activity during the performance.

The findings

Researchers reported that while a majority of participants with long COVID complained of problems with memory (79%) and concentration (93%), the group’s performance on various tests of thinking skills was similar to the group of healthy volunteers. Long COVID participants scored below non-COVID participants on tests of dexterity and motor endurance. They also had higher scores on measures of negative affect and perceived stress and lower scores for psychological wellbeing. Scores for anxiety, fatigue, and pain also were higher among those with long COVID.

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