Further evidence of COVID-19’s lasting impact on the brain

As countries across the globe begin to slowly emerge from lockdown and quarantine, researchers and doctors are learning more about the lasting impacts of Covid-19 on the brain.

A previous article explored the long-term neuropsychiatric of coronavirus, discussing the significant psychological stressors presented by Covid-19, as well as lessons from history about the long-term neurological impact of pandemics on individuals and society.


What does coronavirus do to the brain?

A recent study in The Lancet Psychiatry explored the breadth of complications of COVID-19 across the UK that affected the brain. Using an online network which brought together major neuroscience bodies across the UK, doctors reported clinical symptoms of coronavirus which affected the brain – from strokes to altered mental states, symptoms involving nerves and muscles and any other neurological symptoms.

Findings from 125 cases reported throughout April demonstrated that 62% of patients had cerebrovascular events (including strokes), 31% had altered mental states and 18% developed encephalitis (severe inflammation of the brain, resulting in headache, fever, seizures, stiff neck and vomiting.)

While doctors and researchers continue to learn more about coronavirus on a daily basis, it has become clear that the body’s response to the infection causes blood clots, which in turn can lead to strokes.

Prof Tom Solomon, Chair of Neurology and Director of the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection from the University of Liverpool, told the BBC,

“It’s clear now that this virus does cause problems in the brain whereas initially we thought it was all about the lungs. Part of it is due to lack of oxygen to the brain. But there appear to be many other factors, such as problems with blood clotting and a hyper-inflammatory response of the immune system. We should also ask whether the virus itself is infecting the brain.”

Understanding the long-term impact on individuals

Legal and medico-legal teams should be aware of both the complications of Coronavirus on the brain – and the potential long-term rehabilitation requirements that we are only beginning to understand – as well as the immediate stressors of the pandemic, it’s response and the psychological impacts on individuals and families.

With much rehabilitation for individuals still on hold due to the pandemic response, neurological rehabilitation services are at risk of a perfect storm of increased demand for neuro rehabilitation services for previously healthy patients recovering from the virus and associated periods in intensive care, as well as patients already undergoing rehabilitation pre-pandemic who still require treatment. Read more about this in our recent exploration of the challenges for neurorehabilitation.

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