Rutgers study tracks COVID brain fog and memory loss in NJ patients


One of the many unknowns regarding the still-new coronavirus is how a classification of symptoms commonly known as “brain fog” develops from infection with COVID-19.

Dr William Hu, associate professor and head of cognitive neurology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research, is currently leading a study to try to find clues that may point to effective treatment of these particular side effects.

Brain fog, he said, is an umbrella term that can simply mean mental sluggishness consistent with flu-like symptoms, or having to take longer to complete certain tasks, or more severely, memory problems that may include forgetting conversations and details.

And what’s troubling is that researchers don’t yet seem to know why this is all happening, although Hu said some believe there may be a component of the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself that causes brain damage.

“A more likely scenario is that there is some kind of long-term inflammatory change, and we’re starting to see some of those changes on MRI scans, but we still don’t know what those things are,” Hu said.

The Rutgers study, which began at the end of the first wave of the pandemic last spring, collects cerebrospinal fluid from patients to examine the inflammatory cells in the fluid, which Hu says are likely the same as those that affect the brain.

This is how researchers consider this “fog” to be a type of brain injury.

“We think the brain has a reserve tank, and so if it’s some kind of brain injury, it takes a bit more of your reserve tank,” Hu said.

About half of those who signed up for the study reported a thought or memory complaint, and Rutgers continues to follow around 100 people to watch for potential changes.

If the complaints decrease, a patient “graduates” from the program, according to Hu.

“Fortunately, we haven’t seen a lot of people whose symptoms get worse over time, but even when they don’t get worse, they are still very debilitating,” he said.

There is a “theoretical concern” that cognitive problems caused by COVID could be a precursor to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which is why much of the study focuses on patients in their 40s and 40s. fifty.

But Hu said that age is only a slight provision. These people might still need to be observed for 10 to 15 years, and he has even seen people in their 20s and 30s complaining of brain fog.

To start drawing more concrete conclusions, Hu said more of New Jersey with lingering COVID issues needed to get involved.

“I think we’re really innovating here, but the only way to do it is for people to volunteer to participate in the study, even when they’re not feeling well, even when they have memory problems, ” he said.

Anyone interested can register by sending an email to [email protected]

Patrick Lavery is the anchor for the New Jersey 101.5 afternoon news. Follow it on Twitter @ plavery1015 or send an email to [email protected]

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