Long COVID and Cognitive Slowing: A Prolonged Challenge

A study from the University of Oxford reveals that individuals with long COVID experience persistent cognitive impairments, notably cognitive slowing, which is independent of comorbid mental health factors, emphasizing the lasting impact on cognitive function.

  • Persistent Cognitive Impairments in Long COVID
  • Independence from Mental Health Factors
  • Significant Psychomotor Slowing in Long COVID

Researchers from the University of Oxford have shed light on the persistent cognitive symptoms experienced by individuals with long COVID or post-COVID-19 conditions (PCC). Published in eClinicalMedicine, the study reveals that those with long COVID exhibit chronic cognitive impairments for months or even years, distinguishing them from age-matched individuals who had symptomatic COVID-19 but did not develop long COVID. The study focused on cognitive slowing, employing web-based tasks like Simple Reaction Time (SRT) and Number Vigilance Test (NVT). Surprisingly, cognitive slowing was evident in patients with PCC, even on a 30-second task, emphasizing the lasting impact on cognitive function.

The research emphasizes that cognitive decline in long COVID is not correlated with comorbid mental health factors such as depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, or post-traumatic stress disorder. The study involved 270 patients diagnosed with PCC at clinics in the UK and Germany, comparing them to two control groups—individuals who had COVID-19 but did not develop PCC and uninfected individuals. Cognitive slowing, as measured by SRT, showed that patients with PCC responded significantly slower than healthy controls. The study concludes that psychomotor slowing, revealed in individuals with PCC, could be a pivotal factor contributing to reported cognitive impairments.

The findings highlight a significant psychomotor slowing in individuals diagnosed with PCC, independent of mental health symptoms. Cognitive slowing observed in the SRT tasks was strongly correlated with poor performance on the NVT measure of sustained attention. The study underscores the need for a comprehensive understanding of cognitive implications in long COVID, offering insights into potential factors contributing to the reported cognitive impairments.