New research has shown that patients hospitalized with COVID-19 experience cognitive and behavioral changes after discharge, according to Medscape.

The study, presented at the virtual Congress of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) 2021, has found that COVID infected patients had cognitive changes, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 10 months after hospital discharge.

Study researcher Dr. Elisa Canu of San Raffaele Scientific Institute, Milan, Italy told a press briefing, “We showed that cognitive and behavioral alterations are associated with COVID-19 infection within 2 months from hospital discharge and that they partially persist in the post-COVID phase.”

Previous studies have suggested that about 30% of COVID-19 survivors have cognitive dysfunction, while 30 to 40% have psychopathological disorders, such as anxiety and depression, according to Dr. Canu.

Cognitive and behavioral dysfunctions have been linked to the severity of “acute-phase respiratory symptoms, infection-triggered neuroinflammation, cerebrovascular alterations, and/or neurodegeneration,” according to Medscape.

However, it is not clear whether such dysfunctions persist even in the post-COVID phase.

And to investigate that, the researchers explored cognitive and psychopathological features in nearly 50 COVID patients who were hospitalized and discharged. They followed up with the patients after 2 months (sub-acute phase) and after 10 months (post-COVID phase).

In the sub-acute phase, 53% of patients presented with at least one cognitive deficit related to executive function, such as difficulty planning, attention, and problem-solving. However, some of them had memory issues or visuospatial disturbances, and 23% had executive dysfunction.

Of all the participants, at least one-third experienced symptoms of depression or PTSD.

Furthermore, patients under the age of 50 had more executive dysfunction.

Dr. Canu said, “Our explanation for that is that younger people had a milder clinical profile regarding COVID, so they were cared for at home.”

Low oxygen levels could be the reason behind these findings. Dr. Canu said, “Low levels of oxygen in the brain could lead to confusion, headache, and brain fog, and cause the cognitive disturbances that we see.”

“These white matter lesions are probably preexisting due to cardiovascular risk factors that were present in our population and may have amplified the memory disturbances we saw,” she added.

“We still don’t know if these alterations are a consequence of the infection,” Dr. Canu explained. “And we don’t know whether the deficits are reversible or are part of a neurodegenerative process.”

The study researchers are now planning to follow up with these patients. “We definitely need longer follow-up and bigger populations, if possible, to see if these cognitive and psychopathological disturbances can improve in some way,” Dr. Canu said. The article was published on Medscape Medical News.