COVID-19 has been spreading across the world for over two years. Some people complain about cognitive challenges and other symptoms after recovering from COVID-19.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) conducted a study recently. It estimates about 3 million people in Hong Kong have contracted COVID-19 at some point. The study also shows prolonged COVID-19, or Long Covid conditions appear in about 76 percent of COVID patients.
The study shows some symptoms can last up to six months. Patients with post-COVID-19 conditions are called COVID long-haulers. Their symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of taste and smell, and brain fog. Memory loss, mental fatigue, lack of concentration, and anxiety or emotional disorders are common signs of brain fog.
Since Long COVID-19 symptoms are similar to Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), how can they be differentiated?
Psychiatrist Dr. Mak Kai Lok and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Adrian Wong discussed brain fog, its effects, and how to treat it. Dr. Mak pointed out that brain fog is a short-term cognitive impairment, as coronavirus can infect astrocytes. Astrocytes are responsible for supporting normal brain function and repairing damaged brain cells. It delays brain response and patients will have difficulty focusing and concentrating.
“A Harvard Medical School study discovers COVID-19 patients’ brains would shrink from 0.2% to 2%,” The doctor said.
A decrease in the cortex causes nose-diving deterioration very quickly. Cortex or gray matter is used for processing emotions and memory. However, treatment can reverse the symptoms and help patients regain their lifestyles.
Mild Cognitive Impairment or brain decline is a neurodegenerative disease with longer and more progressive effects. Critical patients may slowly degenerate until they can no longer care for themselves. Brain decline, unlike brain fog, is irreversible. Patients can only control and delay deterioration. Brain fog and MCI are often misunderstood. Therefore, some patients think their symptoms may recover without medical treatment.
Evaluation and Treatment
Clinical Psychologist of Hong Kong Psychological and Cognitive Health Centre Dr. Adrian Wong explained, “If a patient suspects to have symptoms of brain fog, a clinical assessment should be conducted. Evaluation of medical history and mental health assessment is also required. This will eliminate possibilities of other emotional, psychological, and brain dysfunctional disorders.”
Dr. Wong said the next step is cognitive ability assessment, which can detect signs of early cognitive impairment.
The assessment examines various brain functions such as memory, language ability, vision, concentration, and execution.
Dr. Wong encourages patients to undergo brain training or mental stimulation to enhance memory. Learning something new also improves concentration and focus.
A Family Care Alliance study suggests walking five to six miles a week helps maintain cognitive ability or even slow down the decline of MCI. Stretching and Tai Chi boosts mental health. A nutritious and healthy diet including olive oil, fruits and vegetables, nuts and beans, and whole grains improves thinking, memory, and brain health. In the study, sleep is highlighted as “a time when our brain and body can detox and recover.”
On another note, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment for emotional challenges and brain fog symptoms. CBT patients learn to develop coping skills to tackle negative thinking, emotions, and behaviors. CBT focuses on building a more calm and peaceful mind and body. So that patients’ lifestyles can remain positive.
‘Brain Nurture’ formula
The Journal of Alzheimer’s Association reports that some brain fog patients share a common symptom: malnutrition. This can be due to a loss of appetite. The Association suggests specific supplements to prevent and improve brain decline and shrinkage.
The brain nurturing formula includes high levels of DHA & EPA, Uridine, and various vitamins such as B, C, E, and selenium.
Although there is no medical treatment available for brain fog, the doctors stay hopeful, “The sooner we discover symptoms, the better we can improve a patient’s quality of life.”