How to Handle Post-COVID-19 Brain Fog
Many people are experiencing cognitive issues long after first being infected with COVID-19. Here’s what causes this ‘brain fog’ and how you can tackle it.
We already know that COVID-19 itself has a neurological impact, with patients reporting a diminished sense of taste and smell. But, a lot of people are reporting lingering effects post infection. This ‘long COVID’ is defined by the CDC as ‘a range of symptoms that can last weeks or months after first being infected with the virus… or can appear weeks after infection.’ One of the more common symptoms is being referred to as brain fog, which is characterised by difficulty in concentrating, speaking, thinking, memory loss and decreased attention span, among other neurological symptoms. A recent study by The Lancet has also supported the ‘adverse neurological and psychiatric outcomes occurring after COVID-19’. The study goes on to claim ‘the incidence and relative risk of neurological and psychiatric diagnoses were also increased even in patients with COVID-19 who did not require hospitalisation.’
Why it happens:
Even people who had mild cases of COVID-19 are dealing with this brain fog, and while this cognitive impairment is still being studied, there are a few reasons—a mix of psychological and physiological—that could explain this persistent symptom:
● A result of the isolation and immobility while the person was infected with COVID-19. It can be a mentally taxing experience, and the effects may linger.
● The indirect effects of the infection like inflammation, stroke, lack of oxygen, etc., could directly impact the brain.
● Exhaustion, pain, stress, depression—all of which are being reported in higher numbers—can also lead to such neurological issues.
● The impact of COVID-19 on other organs in the body can result in brain fog indirectly—fatigue, weakness and body aches are persistent long COVID-19 symptoms too, and when one is facing those on a daily basis it could naturally result in a weakened cognitive state due to their disruption of daily activities like sleep.
● Another reason proposed is that COVID-19 prompts the immune system to battle the infection, but this could also take a toll on the nervous system at the same time as the body could overreact and target healthier cells as well. There is also increased inflammation that is impacting the brain.
How to treat it:
All of the symptoms caused by brain fog can be alarming as they impair one’s ability to carry out daily routine tasks that perhaps didn’t require much thought before. But, the good news is that many patients are reporting improved conditions with time, and with the help of some cognitive rehabilitation that can be done from home, one could actively work on seeing results. However, it is recommended to consult your healthcare practitioner if the symptoms persist or worsen, or if they interfere with your daily life to a large degree.
● If these symptoms have started for you, try keeping a diary to track what’s happening (or ask someone around you, if available, to take note of them). List when you started experiencing the brain fog symptoms and their severity. Keep tracking this so that you know how you’re progressing and so that your practitioner can see the flow as well in order to guide the way forward.
● Just like one would treat a head injury, it’s important to get enough rest. Ensure that you are sleeping on time and giving your body the time to heal.
● Avoid drinking and smoking, both of which can exacerbate the symptoms and lead to other adverse health conditions as well.
● Even though you may feel fatigued, performing some low-intensity exercises can improve your cognitive abilities; a slow walk is one way to begin. Be sure to not overexert yourself.
● Try and challenge yourself with cognitive tasks that can help stimulate your brain. Things like solving puzzles and brainteasers, or even listening to podcasts, while seemingly simple, encourage you to focus your mind on the task at hand and process information effectively.
● There are some foods that can play a role in maintaining and improving one’s cognitive health and overall mood, but the key is to ensure a holistic diet that includes all food groups. Research does tout the benefits of fatty fish, which can provide omega-3 fatty acids; blueberries, some studies show that they can improve memory; nuts, as they also contain essential fatty acids and vitamin E, both of which are required for one’s well-being; tomatoes contain lycopene, which has been thought to help prevent free radical damage to cells; and wholegrains, which will provide energy to your brain, giving it the power to focus.
● When you have trouble following conversations or remembering names all of a sudden, you may try avoiding social interactions. But, participating in them can help you boost your cognitive processing. Remember to be understanding when it comes to yourself, it could take a while but be patient with your progress.
At Seva At Home, we produce a wealth of free health information to help elders live healthier, happier lives. This has been produced by independent research carried out by the Seva At Home team. This information is not a replacement for medical advice. Please consult your physician for relevant medical diagnosis and advice.
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