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COVID-19 has made each of us age by an average of 20 years

COVID-19 has made each of us age by an average of 20 years 1
Photo: Shot from Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange"

It has long been known that those who have recovered from COVID-19 can remain fatigued for a long time and have impaired mental activity, which former patients sometimes describe as “fog in the head.” But one of the most thorough studies to date on the long-term effects of a severe coronavirus infection on the brain has come up with disturbing new results.

In this study, researchers compared the intellectual abilities of 46 patients with severe COVID-19 and 460 controls. Researchers have found that the mental effects of severe COVID-19 after six months can be compared to aging 20 years (from 50 to 70) or losing 10 IQ points.

At the same time, mental changes after covid differed from those observed in early dementia or general aging. This means that the known methods of prevention and recovery after such a “hassle” may not work, and new options for rehabilitation therapy are needed.

The authors of the new work studied the severity of cognitive changes after severe cases of coronavirus infection in order to subsequently understand how to mitigate these consequences. This will help make life easier for hundreds of thousands of people recovering from COVID-19.​Only 1 in 4 patients fully recover one year after COVID-19read also

Still, the results of this work serve as a good warning to those who have so far avoided infection with SARS-CoV-2: it is better not to get sick any longer. And the most reliable way to avoid infection, especially its severe course, remains vaccination.

We add that 46 people who went to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge in connection with COVID-19 took part in the new experiment between March and July 2020. 16 of them were transferred to artificial lung ventilation during their stay in the hospital.

On average, six months after infection, all participants in the study underwent a test called Cognitron, which helped to characterize the state of their memory, attention, reasoning ability, as well as assess the level of anxiety, depression and the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The researchers compared the results of these tests with the results of a control group of 460 people with similar education and social background.

All scores were then compared to expected results for the age and demographics of the participants, based on testing 66,008 members of the general public.

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As a result, scientists found that those who survived a severe form of covid gave less accurate answers and reacted more slowly than healthy people.

This cognitive “lag” was similar to the effects of aging from 50 to 70 and was equivalent to losing 10 IQ points.

Accuracy suffered the most in verbal analogy tasks: this is a task to find similarities between two different words.

All of this is reminiscent of unofficial reports from survivors who sometimes complain that they are struggling to find or remember the right word and feel that their brain work has noticeably slowed down.

Patients also reported fatigue and depression of varying severity.

What is still not completely clear is how and why the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes such severe cognitive decline.

So, previous studies have shown that during a severe course of COVID-19, glucose consumption decreases in the fronto-parietal region of the brain, which is responsible for attention, problem solving and working memory.

It is also known that the virus can cause pathological changes in brain structures.

There is also growing evidence that one’s own immune system and inflammatory responses can have a negative effect on the brain.

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The study was published in eClinicalMedicine.

Derailed intelligence?

Thus, the cognitive deficit after COVID-19 is a scientifically proven fact today, although the facts are still approximate. Perhaps the loss of IQ was 10 points, or maybe 25 or more, maybe someone’s brain has aged 20 years, or maybe aging has added all 40 years to the age of the brain neurosystem. 

Statistics on mild and asymptomatic COVID are also not very clear, since tests on these people were not carried out and the researchers focused only on severe forms. 

Finally, the topic of the consequences of coronavirus treatment is not covered at all, because the disease causes cognitive “push backs”, then vaccinations could do the same to one degree or another, since vaccines are the same disease, but in a mild form. 

Nevertheless, if we take the data of the very first study as a basis for now, then humanity has lost an average of 10 IQ points over the past two years. This is a lot.

So, if a person had an IQ of 200, then he would not notice a loss of 5%, and those around him, who had also become cognitive-minus, would not even notice. But if the IQ was on the norm border, then 10 points is just what distinguishes a normal person from one who gradually loses cognitive balances. And all those people with lingering intelligence are now continuing to perform professional duties, which they would not have been allowed to do with their current level of intelligence. 

We do not know whether this will lead to mass train derailments and plane crashes, whether people will forget how to make computers and jet engines, but the discovery is interesting in itself.

For example, we all know that the human brain is designed for a little more than the 2% used by the average person, and therefore many people have long had the question: who slightly curtailed the cognitive functions of the head for countries and peoples, when, for what and how? 

The answer to the last question has now, presumably, been received. Perhaps one day other questions will be answered. 

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