Can Neuroplasticity Ease Long COVID Symptoms?

COVID is linked to a host of neurological symptoms that may require new neural connections to recover from
Nov 24 2022

Neuroplasticity—that superpower our brains have to rewire themselves and function in new ways—has helped people treat everything from anxiety to chronic pain. Now, it’s gaining traction among patients with long COVID who live with the signature symptom of brain fog.

Neuroplasticity gives us an ability to replace old negative neural pathways with new positive ones. It is the reshaping of our brain’s neural connections as we learn and grow. By allowing us to rewire our brains—structurally and functionally—neuroplasticity allows us to return a healthy state with subsequent effects on our bodies.

Some research shows that COVID-19 changes our brains, leading to long-term brain fog and impaired memory, among other symptoms. This suggests that using neuroplasticity to the maximum extent possible should be an important part of treatment plans.

How Illness Impairs the Brain

Now, there’s evidence that our immune responses may be a result of learned functional changes in the brain and within the central nervous system. Some research indicates that lingering symptoms can persist beyond the time of infection (be it from a viral infection such as COVID-19 or other infections).

Research conducted last year found that COVID-19 can lead to functional changes in the way the brain processes information and triggers the immune response.

In other words, your brain learns that the symptoms from a pathogen are life-threatening (as they may, in fact, be so during acute infection). The brain learns to link symptoms with a pathogen. Even when the pathogen is physically gone from the body, experiencing the symptom can trigger an immune cascade.

Neuroplasticity: A Long COVID Treatment?

Scientists are continuing to study the effect of COVID-19 on the brain and trying to come up with solutions. Many claim that neuroplasticity training is an effective one.

A study underway at The University of Alabama at Birmingham aims to see if constraint-induced (CI) therapy (a neuroplasticity technique already used in people with strokes, traumatic brain injury, and multiple sclerosis) can ease long COVID symptoms.

Exercise and occupational therapy have also been successful to help long-haulers whose breathlessness and fatigue symptoms just won’t seem to stop. It could help cognitively, too. An article published in Frontiers in Neurology last year exploring brain fog solutions pointed to a healthy diet (with a focus on anti-inflammatory foods), regular exercise, and adequate sleep as viable treatments.

Brain Training

What’s a neuroplasticity session like? It can involve exercises such as “shaping,” which involves repeatedly trying to do something a person struggles with repeatedly. That’s been shown to increase the brain’s gray matter and improve the white matter. Learning to play an instrument, memory tasks, brain games, and building your vocabulary are all ways to improve brain health—and also could have some protective benefits against cognitive decline such as dementia.

Some people have used smell training to try to regain their sense of smell if it was impaired after having COVID-19.

There are apps or webinars that may help, or long-haulers can seek help from COVID-19 recovery centers.

Jordan Grafman, chief of the cognitive neuroscience lab at the Think and Speak Lab in Chicago, told The Epoch Times that our brains, on their own, demonstrate some kind of change in structure or function because of daily experiences.

Neuropsychologists or neurologists can help people practice neuroplasticity, but people can do a lot on their own.

“The natural state of our brain is its plasticity and adaptiveness,” Grafman said. “Honestly, you don’t need an app. You need an inquisitive mind.”

Kristen Fischer is a writer living in New Jersey.
You May Also Like