COVID-19 survivors may experience neurological and psychiatric conditions such as dementia, brain fog, and psychosis, two years after their first infection compared to other respiratory infections, a study has revealed. Published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal on Friday this week, the study was carried out by the University of Oxford and the National Institute for Health and Care Research Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre.
A total of 1.28 million COVID-19 survivors were involved in the study over a period of two years. The study used information picked from hospitals in the USA, Australia, the UK, Spain, Bulgaria, India, Malaysia and Taiwan. The study included children, adults, and elderly persons. The findings show that COVID-19 survivors can develop neurological and psychotic diseases long after they are declared COVID-free.
The findings show that all age groups can experience temporary and long-term mental illnesses. Temporary mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression can last up to two months while long-term mental illnesses like dementia can last for as long as two years or even more. Among children under 18 years, the findings show that there were similarities and differences to adults.
While children in this age group faced lower chances of being diagnosed with temporary mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, they can develop longer-term illnesses. Just like adults, children were found to be more likely to be diagnosed with cognitive disorders such as brain fog, dementia, psychotic disorders and epilepsy were present two years after they presented.
In addition to this, the findings show that more adults between 18 to 64 years of age were more likely to suffer from brain fog (640 cases per 10,000 people) compared with those who had other respiratory infections (550 cases per 10,000 people).
The findings show that the rate at which, mental disorders were suffered depended on age. Persons aged 65 and above had a higher occurrence of brain fog (1,540 cases per 10,000 people), dementia (450 cases per 10,000 people) and psychotic disorders (85 cases per 10,000 people) compared with those who previously had a different respiratory infection (1,230 cases per 10,000 for brain fog, 330 cases per 10,000 for dementia and 60 cases per 10,000 for psychotic disorder).
A sizeable proportion of older adults who received a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis, in either cohort, subsequently died, especially those diagnosed with dementia or epilepsy or seizures. The highest number of disorders were recorded during the Delta variant wave than in the Alpha variant. The Omicron variant, although less severe, is associated with similar neurological and psychiatric risks as Delta.
Professor Paul Harrison, from Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry, says the study shades light on the extent of mental disorders that are linked to COVID-19. “It is good news that the excess of depression and anxiety diagnoses after COVID-19 is short-lived and that it is not observed in children. However, it is worrying that some other disorders, such as dementia and seizures, continue to be more likely diagnosed after Covid-19, even two years later,” he said.