A group of scientists in Surrey are looking for ways to measure COVID-19’s impact on the brain and come up with treatments for infection-associated brain fog.
Researchers at the Surrey Neuroplasticity Clinic, next to Surrey Memorial Hospital, are beginning a study in January where they’ll track the brainwaves of COVID-19 survivors experiencing brain fog to see if they can change during therapeutic intervention.
“If you’ve been infected with COVID-19 and you’re not feeling quite the same, there’s a validation,” said Ryan D’Arcy, the neuroscientist leading the research. “It could be something where we can get a very focused intervention and evaluate and then treat.”
Although COVID-19 is primarily understood as a respiratory infection, it has several puzzling neurological effects. The most well-known is patients’ loss of taste and smell, and research suggests the virus is also associated with headache, dizziness, confusion, and more rarely stroke, swollen brain tissue, seizures, and brain bleeding.
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Most mild COVID-19 infections clear in about two weeks. But many patients report still experiencing symptoms months after their initial infection. These people have been dubbed COVID-19 “long-haulers,” and one common symptom they report is brain fog.
The post-COVID-19 haze makes it hard to focus for long periods and sometimes comes with cognitive deficits including problems with memory.
The symptoms COVID-19 patients describe sound similar to brain fog that can appear after a concussion, during chemotherapy, or after other types of viral infections.
D’Arcy and his team are looking for distinctions in the brains of people with residual neurological impacts from COVID-19. They’ll use technology to measure people’s brainwaves to see if they can spot differences.
They have a hunch the COVID-19 survivors’ patterns may be similar to people with concussions.
Research with human volunteers who’ve survived COVID-19 is kicking off mid-January 2021, the researchers say. After completion, they’ll be submitting their findings to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Once brain changes from COVID-19 infection can be measured, D’Arcy hopes we’ll be one step closer to treating them.
Some simple measures can help get the brain back on track, such as exercise, a healthy diet, and plenty of sleep.
But treatments can also include therapies at the neuroplasticity clinic aimed at forging new neural pathways. Essentially, they’re trying to get patients’ neurons to fire in a way that’s closer to their pre-infection state to get them out of the fog they’ve been experiencing.
In the meantime, researchers at the centre are urging people to follow public health guidelines because we now know COVID-19 can have lasting neurological impacts that are more serious than a simple cough.
Metro Vancouver residents interested in participating in the research can get in touch with the Surrey Neuroplasticity Clinic at [email protected] or (604) 424-8280.