COVID-19 long-haulers report long-lasting cognitive impairment

A new survey of Canadian COVID-19 long-haulers has revealed that many of them experience cognitive impairment for months after their initial COVID-19 infection has subsided.

More than 1,000 people from across the country participated in the survey, which was open to all Canadian long-haulers. It was conducted by Viral Neuro Exploration (VINEx), COVID Long Haulers Support Group Canada, and Neurological Health Charities Canada.

"It is our hope that the data collected from this survey will highlight the implications of Long COVID on brain health. Creating awareness through lived experiences and patient collaboration will magnify the urgency to act on funding for research and rehabilitation of long-haulers," Susie Goulding, the founder of the COVID Long-Haulers Support Group Canada, said in a press release.

The survey found that more than half of the respondents were between the ages of 40 and 59. Only 57 per cent of respondents had a positive COVID-19 test because some participants didn’t have access to COVID-19 testing early on in the pandemic.

According to the press release, more than 70 per cent of people who responded to the survey had to take some time off work, with some having to reduce their hours by as much as 50 per cent.

The findings show that long-haulers reported cognitive issues, such as brain fog, headaches, dizziness and anxiety. More than 80 per cent of respondents said their symptoms lasted for at least three months with nearly half of respondents reporting their symptoms lasted 11 months or longer.

"The survey underlines earlier observations that COVID-19 can cause neurological damage which persists months after the initial infection. It clearly indicates that Canada needs action on brain health in COVID and post-COVID contexts," Deanna Groetzinger, Neurological Health Charities Canada Manager, said in the press release.

It is currently estimated that between 25 and 35 per cent of people with COVID-19 will experience long-term symptoms. Of the 1,048 survey respondents, 87 per cent were women.

As the pandemic rages on, researchers, doctors and COVID-19 long-haulers are pushing for more research in the area.

"We must make the study of viral impacts on the brain a priority, beginning with COVID-19 survivors who need answers. One or more clinical trials of sufficient scale, with patients followed over time, would generate data needed to better understand Long COVID and the neurological and psychological consequences of this infection. What we learn from more research on Long COVID will also accelerate our understanding of how viruses and future pandemics may affect brain health, including as possible triggers for neurodegenerative diseases," Inez Jabalpurwala, VINEx Global Director, said in the press release.

More detailed results data from the survey will be released at a later date.