Oct. 25, 2021 – Patients treated for COVID-19 still had high rates of brain fog an average of more than 7 months after diagnosis, a new study finds.

Jacqueline H. Becker, PhD, with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, led the study, which was published online Friday in JAMA Network Open.


The study of 740 people (with an average age of 49) with no prior history of memory problems included people treated as outpatients as well as those who were admitted to a hospital or treated in emergency departments.

The authors say that although older populations are well known to be susceptible to cognitive impairment after a serious illness, this study has implications for younger people as well.

"Many people believe that they will survive COVID and they'll be just fine and for the majority of the population I think that's true,” says Becker, a clinical neuropsychologist. “But I think our paper suggests there are long-term cognitive repercussions from COVID that may impact individuals across various age groups and the spectrum of disease severity."

Helen Lavretsky, MD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA, and a geriatric psychiatrist, says she is seeing similar problems in her patients.

"It is devastating for young people, especially, who were in their best health up until they got COVID,” she says. “Some improve right after COVID, but then lapse and brain fog or cognitive impairment is one of the top three most common symptoms. Others include fatigue and anxiety."

She said the study echoes the question of other studies in how long these symptoms will last.

"Is it forever? We're coming up on almost 2 years of the same symptoms." she says.

‘What Is Astounding Is the Scale’

"Normally people of this age don't have this type of impairment. Maybe in the single-digit proportion," Lavretsky says. "This is not unlike other viral diseases like HIV, for instance or Lyme Disease. What is astounding is the scale — so many have it."

She says that because so many people have been infected with COVID-19 the numbers with these effects translate to hundreds of thousands, which will come with great cost to the health care system and work productivity losses.

"Disability will break the bank," Lavretsky said. "Within the next year, we will all realize how tremendous this problem is."

Tracy Vannorsdall, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, at Johns Hopkins Medicine, in Baltimore, says she is also seeing similar effects after COVID illness.

This study shows that the lasting effects are found at all levels of illness from COVID-19, Vannorsdall says, adding that the findings also add concern to what happens to young COVID survivors as they age.

Vannorsdall said the findings of this study suggest clinicians should be asking more questions about cognitive function and memory.