UAB study gives hope to those living with COVID brain fog

Understanding and treating COVID brain fog
Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 10:34 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - If you’ve had COVID-19 and still aren’t feeling as mentally sharp or on task as before, there’s good news.

UAB researcher Dr. Gitendra Uswatte, Ph.D. and his colleagues report promising results in an ongoing trial to help those who are living with long COVID brain fog.

“After treatment, the patients report a substantial decrease in the brain fog and that they are able to perform everyday activities, more effectively,” Uswatte explained.

It’s estimated that nearly half of those who recover from COVID experience varying degrees of brain fog, which can last for months and can even last beyond a year. According to Uswatte, around half of those in his study didn’t experience significant COVID cases.

“It stays with you,” Uswatte said of COVID brain fog. “So there’s a sense of walking in a haze or fog in your head. Then there’s the problems with memory and problems with what’s called executive function, that’s sustaining attention, switching attention from one task to another, making decisions. The scale is from zero to 10 and our patients on average start at something like a six and on average, have reductions to a two after treatment.”

The study focuses on the speed of cognitive processing, or how quickly the brain transmits information and executive function which deals with memory and focus.

“Part of the training is playing this video game that improves cognitive processing speed,” Uswatte explained. “Another part of the training is working on everyday activities that involve cognition in the laboratory. So doing things like preparing a shopping list, searching for a product on the internet, organizing medications.”

Amazingly, the tasks help rewire the brain to break through the fog.

“We hypothesize that those three components together increase the amount of cognitive diversity these people do, that in turn support skill development and reorganization of the brain, which supports even more cognitive activity. It’s kicking off this virtuous cycle,” stated Uswatte.

Right now the study is in a transitional phase, waiting for new grants to expand the program and begin enrolling new participants.

In the meantime, Uswatte encourages those who are battling COVID brain fog to engage in programs like Brain HQ or other games or apps that challenge the brain.

“Engaging in physical exercise certainly will help to promote recovery,” Uswatte encouraged. “Social interaction is important [in this case] and to humans in general.”

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