The impact of post-Covid brain fog – and what to do to about it

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Although more research needs to be done, Covid-related brain fog is very real – and quite common (Picture: Getty)

‘I had Covid for the first time in September 2021. And now, four months later, my brain doesn’t feel as sharp as it did before,’ Holly, 32, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘It’s like there is a thin veil of “fuzz” over everything I do – and I definitely can’t concentrate at work like I used to be able to.’

Despite this feeling, Holly questions herself.

‘Sometimes I wonder, if am I imagining it?’ she says. ‘Maybe I would have felt like this, even if I hadn’t had Covid?’

But Holly is far from alone in this feeling.

For many of the millions who have fallen victim to Covid, the aftermath can be brutal. And post-Covid brain fog is one of the most common symptoms.

Figures publihsed by the ONS in February 2022 reported that an estimated 1.3 million people living in private households in the UK (2% of the population) were experiencing self-reported Long Covid symptoms.

Impact on our cognitive function – in the form of brain fog and short term memory issues – are high up on this list of symptoms.

And it’s not something that necessarily disappears after a few weeks rest.

A recent study from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City found that patients treated for Covid-19 still had high rates of brain fog, an average of 7.6 months after diagnosis.

The study of 740 people (with an average age of 49 and no prior history of memory problems) found that, although older populations are well known to be susceptible to cognitive impairment after a serious illness, there are implications for younger people as well.

‘Many people believe that they will survive Covid and they’ll be just fine and for the majority of the population I think that’s true,’ Jacqueline Becker, clinical neuropsychologist and lead on the study told Medscape news.

‘But I think our paper suggests there are long-term cognitive repercussions from covid that may impact individuals across various age groups and the spectrum of disease severity.’

The study has raised concerns that the potential scale of this, given how many people have been affected, could become a major concern.

What is brain fog?

Sufferers find themselves struggling to think clearly, or finding it a challenge to complete certain tasks (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

According to the NHS, brain fog is not strictly a medical term but is used to describe a range of symptoms including poor concentration, feeling confused, thinking more slowly than usual, ‘fuzzy’ thoughts, forgetfulness and mental fatigue.

They note that: ‘While recovering from Coronavirus, some people experience brain fog. Symptoms may vary and change over time. It’s not just people who were hospitalised with coronavirus who can develop brain fog.’

So, even those who had a mild dose of the virus can still be affected, making it difficult to focus on things that would have been easy before having the virus.

Others can also find themselves struggling to think clearly, or finding it a challenge to complete certain tasks.

‘Brain fog differs from tiredness as it has many more symptoms,’ Abbas Kanani, lead medical advisor at Chemist Click tells Metro.co.uk.

‘You do not need to be tired to experience brain fog. Brain fog can happen to people who are getting eight hours of sleep a night.’

Kanani explains that, in most cases, those who have had covid will recover with no – or a limited – impact on their memory, be it short or long term.

Some people experience mild difficulties that don’t last for long.

Other people, particularly those who have had a severe illness, may find problems last longer.

‘The lasting effects of Covid affect everyone differently and will be experiencing differently so it’s hard to say completely if memory can be affected,’ he says.

According to the NHS, people who had some memory problems before becoming ill may find that they worsen afterwards – however, these changes may be mild and may not last for long.

They key here is in the word ‘may.’

The NHS also state that ‘the long-term effects of Covid are continuing to be researched, to continue to inform guidelines and recovery strategies.’



What should I do if I am suffering?

If you’re having ongoing problems, that are affecting your daily life, healthcare professionals can help you.

You can talk with your GP to identify what support is available.

If are being followed up by the hospital, do let your health professional know that you are experiencing these problems.

Your doctor can discuss whether referral to an occupational therapist or psychologist for ‘cognitive rehabilitation’ may be useful to help you manage your difficulties.

Source: NHS; Your Covid Recovery

Why can Covid cause brain fog?

There are several reasons why people who have been ill with Covid might experience difficulties in their memory and thinking skills.

The NHS cites fatigue, fear and anxiety, and low mood as some examples.

However, various studies and pieces of research are exploring the links between the brain and coronavirus, and it is thought that both physiological and psychological factors may play a role.

Dr Steve Allder, a Consultant Neurologist at Re: Cognition Health told Metro.co.uk: ‘There is growing evidence that brain fog following even mild acute covid infection genuinely effects the brain and causes brain fog.’

Some research has suggested that the virus might attack certain brain cells directly, reduce blood flow to brain tissue, or trigger production of immune molecules that can harm brain cells.

Andrew E. Budson, MD at Harvard Health Publishing wrote that Covid can have both devastating and subtle effects on the brain, as well as the rest of the body.

In addition to direct effects on the brain, Covid can also have long-term effects on other organ systems, he added.

‘Some of these problems may be due to permanent damage to their lungs, heart, kidneys, or other organs. Damage to these organs – or even just the symptoms by themselves – can impair thinking and memory and cause brain fog.

‘For example, how can you think clearly if you’re feeling fatigued and your body is aching? How can you concentrate if you were up half the night and awoke with a headache?’

However, it’s a complex subject that requires more research to fully understand it.

What can you do if you are suffering?

There are some things you can do which should help to reduce any brain fog you may be experiencing.

‘Staying hydrated is key, as when your brain and body is hydrated cognitive function improves,’ Kanani advises.

‘Sleep is also important,’ he adds, ‘as well as exercising outdoors, eating a health and balanced diet, meditation and taking regular breaks from work.’

If you are struggling with brain fog at work, Kanani suggests that you should adopt a routine which may help you to complete tasks.

‘Perhaps setting yourself an amount of time to complete certain things, set a timer so you know you have that window.

‘Get rid of any distractions such as phones, TV’s and radio and ensure you only have the one thing to focus on at a time,’ he says.

Lifestyle changes can also help.

These can include things like eating a balanced and healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising.

Kanani also suggests socialising regularly and trying to stay organised.

‘Of course, some days we use our brain and short-term memory more than other days,’ he says. ‘But it is good to try and stay mentally active every day.

‘So, on the weekend, if you’re not working, try to do brain training such as sudoku, a crossword or some sort of cognitive activity.’

This will help memory and cognitive function on a short term and long-term basis.

And, if you’re suffering, or things aren’t improving from you, seek help from a healthcare professional.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


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