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New study claims severe Covid-19 impairs brain function similar to other critical illnesses

Recent research carried out at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark indicates that individuals with severe cases of Covid-19 encounter compromised brain function similar to those hospitalized for conditions such as pneumonia, cardiac arrest, and other critical illnesses.

New study claims sever Covid-19 impairs brain function similar to other critical illnesses snt
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First Published Dec 29, 2023, 5:07 PM IST

New research conducted at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, has unveiled significant findings regarding the long-term effects of severe Covid-19 on brain function. The study, published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open, suggests that individuals hospitalized with severe Covid-19 experience impaired brain function comparable to those admitted for critical conditions such as pneumonia, cardiac arrest, and other non-Covid-19 illnesses requiring intensive care.

Led by researchers at the University of Copenhagen, the study involved 345 participants, comprising 120 Covid-19 patients, 125 individuals hospitalized for non-Covid-19 critical illnesses, and 100 healthy controls. Over an 18-month follow-up period, cognitive, neurological, and psychiatric effects were assessed to understand the long-term impact on brain health.

The study's results revealed that patients hospitalized due to severe Covid-19 exhibited cognitive, neurological, and psychiatric effects that were worse compared to healthy individuals. What surprised the researchers was that these deficits in brain function were not significantly different from those observed in "carefully matched" patients requiring hospitalization for other non-Covid-19 health issues.

Also read: Why is it always in December? Decoding the seasonal surge of Covid-19 variants and rise of JN.1

Contrary to expectations that the observed cognitive effects might be Covid-19-specific, the researchers concluded that long-term associations with brain health may be linked to overall illness severity and hospitalization. This insight challenges the notion that the impact on brain function is exclusive to Covid-19 and emphasizes the importance of considering the broader context of critical illnesses in assessing cognitive outcomes.

The participants underwent evaluations for cognition and executive function during the follow-up period. Depression and anxiety assessments were conducted, along with a neurological examination measuring sensorimotor, cerebellar functions, and cranial nerves. Conversations with patients were also part of the evaluation to gather data on cognitive and neuropsychiatric symptoms, including fatigue.

While Covid-19 patients displayed worse performance in various assessments compared to healthy controls, the study highlighted that the differences were not significantly greater than those observed in patients hospitalized for other severe health issues. This challenges preconceived notions about the uniqueness of cognitive impacts associated with Covid-19.

The research from the University of Copenhagen contributes valuable insights into the understanding of long-term cognitive effects in severe Covid-19 patients. It prompts further exploration into the complex relationship between illness severity, hospitalization, and cognitive outcomes, urging researchers to consider a broader perspective when addressing concerns about brain health post-Covid-19. The findings underscore the need for continued research and comprehensive assessments to unravel the intricate aspects of how severe illnesses, including Covid-19, may impact long-term brain function.

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