A study published in JAMA Network Open examined the cognitive function in patients following COVID-19 Infection (Becker, JH, et al.). The researchers analyzed data from a cohort of COVID-19 patients from April 2020 through May 2021 and investigated rates of cognitive impairment in survivors who were treated in outpatient, emergency department, or inpatient hospital settings. Prior studies were hindered by limited sample sizes and substandard evaluation of cognitive functioning.
In this recent, more extensive study, researchers discovered a rather high frequency of cognitive impairment several months after patients contracted COVID-19. Among hospitalized patients, impairments in executive functioning, processing speed, category fluency, memory encoding, and recall were prevalent. The authors state, “The relative sparing of memory recognition in the context of impaired encoding and recall suggests an executive pattern. This pattern is consistent with early reports describing a dysexecutive syndrome after COVID-19 and has considerable implications for occupational, psychological, and functional outcomes.”
The authors emphasize that certain populations, such as older adults, may be particularly vulnerable to cognitive impairment after critical illness, yet a substantial proportion of the comparatively young cohort also exhibited cognitive dysfunction several months after recovering from COVID-19. The results of this study are consistent with research findings on other viruses such as influenza.