‘It’s just the beginning’: Joint study exploring long-term impact of COVID-19 on the brain

LONDON, ONT. — A joint study from Ontario-based researchers is looking to uncover the potential long-term brain impacts of COVID-19.

Researchers from Western University in London, Ont., working with the University of Toronto and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre (SHSC), are looking to recruit 50,000 patients from around the world for their study.

The COVID-19 Brain Study is looking for patients who have tested positive in order to answer questions about the disease’s effects on the brain.

“A year from now, we will have more than eight million people worldwide recovering from COVID-19. So, we may also have eight million people with short- and long-term cognitive problems,” said Adrian Owen, researcher with Western University in a statement.

Owen has partnered with Dr. Rich Swartz with SHSC and the University of Toronto.

So far there has been little research into the effect and longer-term impacts of the disease, according to the research team.

“We need to start collecting this data now. We can’t start looking at this issue in a year’s time because if there are cognitive impairments, and we know there will be, it’s going to be too late,” said Owen.

The pair will be looking at whether or not COVID-19 infection results in significant cognitive impairment, and are their certain risk factors that result in a greater impact.

“We also need to understand whether COVID-19 patients are getting better or worse over time,” said Swartz.

“For example, is it only those who were ventilated or sedated? This study will allow us to ask these relevant questions on a global scale and to inform efforts to improve recovery and long-term function for the millions of COVID-19 survivors around the world.”

According to Owen there has been an unprecedented spike in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) demand, and patients leaving ICU can suffer a range of physical, functional, and neuropsychological issues known as ‘post-intensive care syndrome’ (PICS).

A previous study in 2019 showed that cognitive impairments in daily function are common as a result of ICU visits and nearly all patients are cognitively impaired at the time of ICU discharge.

“As the number of recovered COVID-19 patients continues to climb, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that getting sent home from the ICU is not the end for these people. It’s just the beginning of their recovery,” said Owen.

Those wishing to participate in the study can do so by following this link.

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