Among patients hospitalized with COVID-19, 1 year after discharge, about half experienced clinically relevant moderate or worse diminished cognitive ability in verbal learning and executive function, according to study findings published in European Neuropsychopharmacology.

Lingering cognitive, neurologic, psychiatric, and physical symptoms (long-COVID) are estimated to affect as many as 40% of all patients who contracted COVID-19 and as much as 85% of those who have been hospitalized with COVID-19. Cognitive COVID (which is long-term) is characterized by brain fog, and memory and concentration struggles, and is recognizable in about 30% of patients previously hospitalized with the virus.

Researchers sought to investigate the frequency and severity of cognitive impairments over time and specifically 1 year after hospitalization in patients who contracted COVID-19, and whether depression after 1 year is related to cognitive impairments at 3 months.


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To accomplish this, the researchers conducted a longitudinal prospective follow-up study that included 29 patient volunteers from their previous study at the Copenhagen University Hospital who participated in a 3-month follow-up in that study, of whom, 25 participants (56±10.7 years of age; 48% female; 14.84±3.8 years of education; 48% employed; 75% White) were reassessed at a 1-year follow-up (11±2 months).

Researchers found 48-56% of patients, depending on the cut-off, experienced clinically significant cognitive impairments, especially in verbal learning and executive function. This matched the 3-month frequency from the previous study. Moderate correlations were reflected between cognitive impairment and greater anxiety and depression and quality of life questionnaires. An association was established between cognitive impairments after 3 months and the intensity of symptoms of depression after 1 year.

If cognitive impairment does not manifest at 3 months, it’s a good predictor of no manifestation at 1 year.

Study limitations included an underpowered sample size, sampling bias, lack of a control group with a different respiratory illness, and lack of a comprehensive neurological evaluation.

“The stable cognitive impairments in approximately half of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and negative implications for work functioning, quality of life, and mood symptoms underline the importance of screening for and addressing cognitive sequelae after severe COVID-19,” the researchers concluded.

Disclosure: Some study authors declared affiliations with biotech, pharmaceutical, and/or device companies. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures.

Reference

Miskowiak KW, Fugledalen L, Jespersen AE, et al. Trajectory of cognitive impairments over 1 year after COVID-19 hospitalization: Pattern, severity, and functional implications. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. Published online April 14, 2022. doi:10.1016/j.euroneuro.2022.04.004