COVID-19 brain fog, dementia risk higher for 2 years after infection - study

A major study of over 1.25 million people has indicated that people with COVID-19 are at a higher risk of brain fog and dementia, as well as other neurological and mental health conditions.

Mental health [illustrative] (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Mental health [illustrative]
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

Patients who recovered from COVID-19 may still be at an increased risk of brain fog and even developing dementia for two years after recovery, according to a new major academic study.

The findings of this study, which surveyed over 1.25 million people, was recently published in the peer-reviewed academic journal The Lancet Psychiatry.

The study sheds light on the neurological and psychiatric effects of COVID-19, both in the long term as well as in the short term.

 The brain (illustrative). (credit: PIXABAY) The brain (illustrative). (credit: PIXABAY)
What is brain fog? What does brain fog feel like?

The term brain fog isn't anything specifically scientific or medical. Rather, its something people use to describe how they feel.

As noted by Harvard University's health blog, brain fog symptoms refer to when one's thinking is fuzzy, sluggish and not sharp.

Now, as for what causes brain fog, there are a number of possible causes. It could range from being overtired, taking certain medication or being sick with another illness. And these causes eventually fade and as a result, the brain fog will clear up.

Brain fog and COVID-19

Now, COVID-19 is capable of numerous effects on the brain. But one of these in particular, brain fog, stands out. This is because while in most cases, brain fog will clear up, it has been reported to persist even after the COVID-19 infection has passed.

This is often cited as being part of long-COVID, a set of symptoms that tend to persist after COVID-19 infection. However, that isn't necessarily the whole story. 

Studies have shown that one in eight patients infected with COVID-19 may develop long-COVID. This includes other symptoms such as loss of smell or taste, trouble breathing, overall body aches and fatigue. But this also includes brain fog, and since long-COVID is long-lasting, the brain fog may not necessarily go away easily, or at all.

How else does COVID-19 affect the brain?

The study covered a vast number of neurological and mental health conditions, such as brain fog, that could appear following COVID-19 infection.

The risk levels for some of these common disorders like anxiety tended to return to baseline levels within one to two months. 

But that wasn't the case for everything.

Brain fog risks continued to be high for two years. This was also the case with other conditions like dementia, epilepsy, seizures and psychotic disorders. 

What is also interesting to note, though, are the variants at play.

There have been numerous variants of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In particular, two of these variants, Delta and Omicron, were highlighted in the study for having been linked to a greater risk of neurological and psychiatric disorders compared to other variants. 

The reason this is so important to note is that the Omicron variant tends to cause a much milder set of COVID-19 symptoms than Delta. However, the rates of rising risk of brain fog and other neurological disorders from Omicron are similar to Delta. In other words, it might cause milder symptoms, but it can be just as devastating neurologically in the long-term.

Also interesting to note is the difference in age demographics. Children tended to have little to no increased risk in developing symptoms like brain fog due to COVID-19, while adults did. But among adults above the age of 65, the numbers jumped even higher.

How long does COVID brain fog last?

This is unclear. The pandemic is still relatively recent and ongoing. As such, it isn't clear how long these symptoms will last. Further research will need to explore this avenue in the future.

How to get rid of brain fog

Unfortunately, there aren't any approved medications or treatments like vitamins for brain fog. However, that doesn't mean there aren't steps you can take to try and clear brain fog.

Overall, brain fog treatment tends to be more about certain environmental factors and lifestyle choices. This is because brain fog itself tends to be caused by inflammation, and these choices can help reduce inflammation.

The following are examples of what helps with brain fog:

  • Getting more sleep and have a consistent sleep schedule
  • Having a healthy diet to make sure you eat healthily, which includes eating foods high in antioxidants like oranges and blueberries, or foods like omega-3 fatty acids like fish
  • Around 30 minutes of daily exercise
  • Take mental health breaks to avoid fatigue or burnout, which can include anything from resting your eyes or going on a walk or listening to music
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Avoid drinking too much caffeine or alcohol

Over time, these decisions can make a big difference, even with COVID-19. It won't clear brain fog instantly, but it is a step in the right direction.