Do you feel like you’ve slowed down in planning and problem-solving after recovering from COVID-19? No, it’s not all in your head — new research shows a clear correlation between coronavirus and a decrease in intelligence.
Adam Hampshire, an associate professor and cognitive neuroscientist at Imperial College, and his team set up a test consisting of tasks, which involved answering questions related to logical reasoning and critical thinking, designed to gauge different facets of intelligence. Between January and December last year, the team looked at data from over 80,000 participants in the U.K., out of which nearly 13,000 reported having contracted COVID-19 of varying degrees of severity.
The findings indicated that those who contracted the virus and recovered from it struggled to perform these tasks, especially those related to planning, problem-solving and reasoning. According to the researchers, the results were in line with the documented long-term effects of COVID-19 such as ‘brain fog,’ trouble concentrating, and recollecting words.
The findings also showed that those who had a severe case of COVID-19, which involved hospitalization and a longer recovery, were the worst performers in the test. The deficit in intelligence for people who were put on ventilator support during their battle against coronavirus could be equated to a drop of seven IQ points — larger than the deficits observed in those who have recovered from strokes or have had learning disabilities.
While the study saw 275 participants complete the test both before and after having COVID-19, researchers employed a cross-sectional methodology, which prevents the study from drawing definite conclusions about cause and effect. “The main caveat is that we do not know what the mechanistic basis of the observed COVID-cognition association is. Nor do we know how long any impact on cognition might last,” Hampshire told Psypost in an interview.
As the virus mutates and governments rush to get large parts of the world population vaccinated, the findings of the study can be worrying for many, as researchers continue to find new, hidden effects of COVID-19 on the human brain and cognition but with no real solutions. While studies in Canada have found that the virus can act as a heightened risk of strokes, even in younger patients with no previous brain damage, studies in the U.S. have found that severe COVID-19 can lead to cognitive impairment comparable to those who have had traumatic brain surgery.