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Severe COVID-19 infections may lower intelligence levels in patients, says UK study

A large study has found that COVID-19 patients tend to score significantly lower in intelligence tests compared to those who haven’t contracted it.

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Those who recover from a bout of COVID-19 may be scoring lower on intelligence tests, a new research has claimed. Published in The Lancet journal EClinicalMedicine, the study suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes the COVID-19 disease could significantly decrease cognitive ability, particularly among patients who had severe infections.

As per Adam Hampshire, associate professor in the Computational, Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory at Imperial College London and lead researcher in the study, “By coincidence, the pandemic escalated in the United Kingdom in the middle of when I was collecting cognitive and mental health data at very large scale as part of the BBC2 Horizon collaboration the Great British Intelligence Test.”

Hampshire’s test consisted of a set of tasks which aimed to evaluate different dimensions of cognitive ability.

“A number of my colleagues contacted me in parallel to point out that this provided an opportunity to gather important data on how the pandemic and COVID-19 illness were affecting mental health and cognition,” Hampshire continued, “I had been thinking the same thing and wanted to help out insofar as I could, so extended the study to include information about COVID-19 illness and the impact of the pandemic on daily life more generally.”

The study, titled “Cognitive deficits in people who have recovered from COVID-19”, analyzed data of 81,337 people of whom 12,689 had reported having had COVID-19 infection with respiratory severity of some measure.

The research found that people who reported having contracted COVID-19 underperformed on the intelligence test. As per the researchers, the biggest shortfalls appeared in tasks that needed to participants to reason, plan and solve problems. This, as per the research, aligns with “long-COVID” reports in which patients have complained of ‘brain fog’ and concentration issues.

Those hospitalized and put on ventilators showed the worst deficit, equated to an IQ level drop of 7 points, as per the study.

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