Brain tissue issues: Delirium, memory loss
Patients in Texas and around the world are experiencing various cognitive issues due to COVID-19. According to a study in JAMA Neurology, more than 36% of patients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, experienced dizziness, loss of smell or taste, or even stroke.
Another study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 58 of 64 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in Strasbourg, France, exhibited confusion, agitation, and poor concentration.
In some patients, cognitive symptoms are subtle. Patients say they have used the term "brain fog" to describe their difficulty concentrating or forgetting things, like placing a big order on Amazon. Others have trouble remembering how to do simple daily tasks, like using their smart TV.
More severe symptoms could be caused by delirium, a disorienting condition caused by serious illness or infection. Delirium is common in older patients. Staying in intensive care, having to use a ventilator or various sedating medications, and factors such as isolation or being treated by providers in full personal protective equipment (PPE) can be very disorienting.
COVID-19 may infect the body via angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). ACE2 is found on the surface of organs, including the brain. Researchers believe the virus binds with ACE2, invades the body, and starts wreaking havoc. In the brain, ACE2 is found close to the nerves that facilitate the senses of smell and taste. This could explain why some patients with coronavirus have difficulty with cognitive functions.
How PM&R can help
Specialists on our PM&R team have advanced training in neurological rehabilitation and psychology and can help patients resolve cognitive impairments like memory loss and decreased attention or problem-solving.
Your doctor will identify how your brain functioning has been affected to determine the best approach to care. In many cases, cognitive therapy exercises from a speech and language pathologist can help the brain retrain or rebuild pathways to resume the ability to perform normal tasks again, such as recalling phone numbers.
As part of your rehab plan, we may recommend lifestyle adjustments to continue making progress at home. For example, addressing underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or depression, which can affect cognitive function, as well as getting adequate sleep. Performing daily cognitive activities or playing certain games can be helpful. Sometimes our rehabilitation psychologist can help you with developing strategies for dealing with the stress of recovery and the occasional anxiety that we see in those recovering from COVID-19.
A few closing thoughts
COVID-19 is a new virus. We are learning more every day about how it affects patients and how we can help them recover.
But we know this for certain: Deficits in breathing, moving, and thinking can take a major toll on your personal and professional quality of life long after the virus leaves your body.
If you are struggling with daily functions after COVID-19, connect with our PM&R team. We can create a personalized care plan to overcome immediate challenges and improve your long-term health and wellness.