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Memory impairment and difficulties focusing among the symptoms COVID ‘long-haulers’ continue to face

A UC San Diego research team has revealed the neurological conditions that many people face months following infection by SARS-CoV-2.

The first batch of data from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine’s longitudinal research study on post-COVID conditions has been released.

Their data showed the incidence of a variety of short- and long-term symptoms. Additionally, they reported that while many patients improved, the majority still had neurological issues after six months. A minority of people also showed major coordination and cognitive problems that had never been seen before.

A cognitive evaluation, self-reported questionnaire, and an optional brain scan were all given to the 56 individuals with neurological conditions who were recruited in the research. The researchers performed baseline measurements a few months after infection, then repeated them 3 to 6 months later.

The patients most commonly reported conditions at baseline were fatigue (89%) and headaches (80%). Some other reported issues included problems with memory, difficulty focusing, and struggling to sleep at night.

The study’s results stated, “At the 6-month follow-up, memory impairment (68.8%) and decreased concentration (61.5%) were the most prevalent, though on average all symptoms showed a reduction in reported severity score at the follow-up. Complete symptom resolution was reported in 33.3% of participants by 6 months.

Prior to their COVID-19 diagnoses, none of the people with persisting complaints at six months had any incidence of pre-existing cognitive impairments.

Dr. Jennifer Graves, a neurologist and an author on the study told UC San Diego News Center, “It’s encouraging that most people were showing some improvement at six months, but that wasn’t the case for everyone. Some of these participants are high-level professionals who we’d expect to score above average on cognitive assessments, but months after having COVID-19, they’re still scoring abnormally.”

Although there is a lot of ongoing research to find the mechanism behind these long-lasting symptoms, the authors suggest that the reasoning is likely related to SARS-CoV-2 triggering an autoinflammatory response.

Dr. Graves concluded, “To have people’s cognition and quality of life still impacted so long after infection is something we as a society need to be taking a serious look at. We still need to know how common this is, what biological processes are causing this, and what ongoing health care these people will need. This work is an important first step to getting there.”


The study was published in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology on June 15th, 2022.

Abstract. To assess the initial features and evolution of neurologic Postacute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (neuro-PASC) in patients with and without prior neurologic disease. Participants with neurologic symptoms following acute SARS-CoV-2 infection were recruited from October 9, 2020 to October 11, 2021. Clinical data included a SARS-CoV-2 infection history, neurologic review of systems, neurologic exam, Montreal cognitive assessment (MoCA), and symptom-based self-reported surveys at baseline (conducted after acute infection) and 6-month follow-up assessments. Fifty-six participants (69% female, mean age 50 years, 29% with prior neurologic disease such as multiple sclerosis) were enrolled, of which 27 had completed the 6-month follow-up visit in this ongoing study. SARS-CoV-2 infection severity was largely described as mild (39.3%) or moderate (42.9%). At baseline, following acute infection, the most common neurologic symptoms were fatigue (89.3%) and headaches (80.4%). At the 6-month follow-up, memory impairment (68.8%) and decreased concentration (61.5%) were the most prevalent, though on average all symptoms showed a reduction in reported severity score at the follow-up. Complete symptom resolution was reported in 33.3% of participants by 6 months. From baseline to 6 months, average MoCA scores improved overall though 26.3% of participants’ scores decreased. A syndrome consisting of tremor, ataxia, and cognitive dysfunction (PASC-TAC) was observed in 7.1% of patients. Early in the neuro-PASC syndrome, fatigue and headache are the most commonly reported symptoms. At 6 months, memory impairment and decreased concentration were most prominent. Only one-third of participants had completed resolution of neuro-PASC at 6 months, although persistent symptoms trended toward improvement at follow-up.

Shanley, J.E., Valenciano, A.F., Timmons, G., Miner, A.E., Kakarla, V., Rempe, T., Yang, J.H., Gooding, A., Norman, M.A., Banks, S.J., Ritter, M.L., Ellis, R.J., Horton, L. and Graves, J.S. (2022), Longitudinal evaluation of neurologic-post acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection symptoms. Ann Clin Transl Neurol. https://doi.org/10.1002/acn3.51578

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