In Brief

Coronavirus: ‘long Covid’ patients left with lower IQs and aged brains

Imperial College study finds that infection can cause mental decline equivalent to losing 8.5 IQ points

The brains of some Covid-19 survivors show signs of having aged by up to ten years, a new study has found.

The researchers analysed cognitive test results from 84,285 people in the UK who had recovered from confirmed or suspected Covid-19, and “found that damage to the brain had happened to varying extents, depending upon the severity of the infection”, The Times reports.

Those who had been worst hit by the virus suffered changes equivalent to an 8.5 drop to their IQ. But the study, led by Imperial College London, also found that even people who had experienced only mild symptoms were affected.

Recovered Covid patients scored more poorly on tests for logic, word definitions, spatial orientation, maintaining attention and processing their emotions than people who had not had the virus. 

The scientists used data from a study called the Great British Intelligence Test and say the results back up fears that “there are chronic cognitive consequences of having Covid-19”, the Daily Mirror reports.

The researchers’ paper on their findings, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, adds that the study “should act as a clarion call for more detailed research” to investigate the mental problems being faced by Covid-19 survivors.

Last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that one in ten people in the UK aged under 50 may get long Covid if they contract the virus. “We have already seen worrying numbers of young, fit, healthy people suffering debilitating symptoms months after contracting Covid,” he said.

However, Hancock’s data has been questioned by Full Fact, which says that “people over 70 have about twice the risk of people under 50”.

Earlier this month, academics at the National Institute for Health Research concluded that long Covid could be caused by four different syndromes: post-intensive care syndrome, post-viral fatigue syndrome, permanent organ damage and long-term Covid syndrome.

They also warned that “even children can suffer and it can’t be assumed that people who are at lower risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19 are also at low risk of lasting side effects”.

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