Medical Technology

COVID Affects Executive Functioning in Young to Middle-Age Adults

Editor’s Note: Search the latest COVID-19 news on Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

According to new data published on medRxiv, patients who have had a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection have significantly more symptoms of cognitive and executive dysfunction than those who do not have an infection.

Researchers ,led by Peter A. Hall PhD, from the University of Waterloo in Waterloo (Canada) found that COVID infection was linked to executive dysfunction in middle-aged and young adults. This includes those who were not subjected to intubation or hospitalization.

The online publication on January 2nd of the findings was not peer-reviewed.

The study was conducted on a representative group of 1958 community-dwelling middle-aged and young adults. It utilized a balanced proportion of people who were infected and not to assess the relationship between SARS-CoV-2 and cognitive/executive dysfunction.

The authors mention that the survey was conducted between September 28 and October 21, 2021 when the primary variant in Canada was Delta.

This observational cross-sectional study utilized data from the ongoing Canadian COVID-19 Experiences Survey. It represented equally vaccine-resistant and vaccinated adults ranging from between 18 and 54 years. COVID-19 symptoms ranged from negligible to life-threatening cases requiring hospitalization.

Half of the participants (50.2%) received two vaccine shots; 43.3% had received none; and 5.5% received one shot, but were not intending to receive another shot.

Dose-Response Relationship

The study found that patients with COVID-19 prior infection had significantly more executive dysfunction symptoms than those with no prior infection.

The researchers also discovered a dose-response relationship between the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and cognitive dysfunction. Significantly more dysfunction was seen in those with moderate or extremely severe COVID-19 symptoms.

“This reinforces what we’re hearing about – that COVID isn’t “one and done.’ It can have long-lasting and very subtle and harmful effects on your body,” William Schaffner MD, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee told Medscape Medical News.

He also said that other studies haven’t been able to determine executive functioning, such as the ability of making sound decisions.

Cognitive problems were more prevalent in males than females (b = 0.15 .001). Cognitive dysfunction was more prevalent in younger adults (25-39 year olds) than those 40-54 years (b = 0.30 _.001).

Schaffner noted that it is troubling that children tend to be more susceptible to the disorder.

“When we think of ‘brain fog’ we think of older people who are already predisposed to having more memory lapses as they get older,” he said.

Other studies have shown that there is a connection between cognitive dysfunction, COVID-19 infection, and various other illnesses. However the studies haven’t used representative samples or compared results to noninfected controls.

Executive dysfunction was measured using four questions from the Deficits in Executive Functioning Scale. These scenarios were frequently experienced by the respondents over the last six months.

  • “I cannot limit my reactions or responses to events or to other people.”

  • “I make impulsive comments to people.”

  • “I am likely to do things without considering the consequences for doing them.”

  • “I do things without thinking.”

“This makes it even more important that we discuss vaccinations,” Schaffner said, “because the more ill you are, the more likely to be likely to happen . Vaccines have been proven repeatedly to prevent hospitalizations and more serious illness.

“It also makes more important the monoclonal antibodies we have and the antivirals that will stop the progression of mild diseases into something more grave,” Schaffner said.

This study was funded by a grant from Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), Institute for Population and Public Health. Schaffner and the study authors have not disclosed any financial relationships.

Marcia Frellick, a Chicago-based freelance journalist, is Marcia Frellick. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News, and and was also an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter @mfrellick

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