Tracking cognitive function remains important as a number of neurologic effects have been observed in people suffering from COVID-19. And recent research suggests that the severity of the illness can affect the severity of the change in mental status.
Observed Neurological Impacts
Researchers and clinicians have observed a variety of impacts to the brain — some severe.
One effect observed and reported from COVID-19 is a change in sense of smell. Post-viral anosmia is common, so it is no surprise to observe it with COVID-19.
Research suggests severe viral illness can destroy olfactory neurons responsible for processing odors, resulting in hyposmia, dysosmia, anosmia, and invariably, dysgeusia. This can be one of the most unpleasant parts of recovery, and can last years or be permanent.
Other neurological impacts have included stroke, seizure, and encephalitis.
Physicians have also seen changes in cognition or mental status in individuals with COVID-19, much like those observed in individuals suffering from severe illness of any etiology.
The New York Times recently reported on a Chinese study published in February. This research found a rate of 15% for people experiencing a change in mental status who had severe COVID-19 illness, and a rate of 2.4% for those who did not have severe illness.
This is a significant enough concern that the CDC revised their criteria for consideration of COVID-19 infection to include those with new onset confusion or difficulty being roused.
Doctors have even observed some cases of elderly patients testing positive for COVID-19 whose only symptoms have been changes in mental status.
Tracking Cognitive Function with BrainCheck
Inflammation — which can be caused by any viral illness — may be responsible for the neurological impacts observed thus far. We do not yet have enough information to make any definitive conclusions about COVID-19 causing specific brain injury.
Regardless, providers should monitor patients for these changes — while also limiting the risk of spreading the disease.
BrainCheck offers remote cognitive assessments that patients can complete from home, which can help physicians monitor changes in mental status.
The test battery provides sensitive and objective assessment, which physicians can use to help detect changes in mental status. Then, the platform compares scores to age- and gender-matched normed populations, as well as patients’ baseline results from previous tests.
Clinicians can also repeat administration of assessments within short time periods without a learning effect. BrainCheck’s assessments provide varying content within each specific cognitive domain, so individuals cannot increase their scores through practice.
We still have much to learn about COVID-19 — and brain disorders. Accessible, trackable cognitive assessment tools like BrainCheck provide useful insight into these conditions.