Research has already shown that COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) can have long-lasting effects on health and wellness, and a study released at the 2023 American Academy of Neurology meeting now shows that COVID-19 illness, coupled with anxiety and depression can affect not just your long-term physical health, but your brain, too. Having anxiety and depression can increase your risk of long-haul COVID, called post-COVID-19 syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic:
“Post-COVID-19 syndrome involves a variety of new, returning, or ongoing symptoms that people experience more than four weeks after getting COVID-19. In some people, post-COVID-19 syndrome lasts months or years or causes disability. Research suggests that between one month and one year after having COVID-19, 1 in 5 people ages 18 to 64 has at least one medical condition that might be due to COVID-19. Among people aged 65 and older, 1 in 4 has at least one medical condition that might be due to COVID-19.”
However, the researchers wanted to learn if long-COVID created actual changes in the brain. They believed that long-COVID patients who also have anxiety and depression could experience brain shrinkage in some areas of the brain.
The concern was well-founded as U.K. Biobank researchers found brain atrophy, grey matter loss, and cognition decline in patients infected with COVID, compared with those not infected.
The research, which did identify brain changes, has important implications and information given recent statistics. For example, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, 12.5% of U.S. adults have regular feelings of anxiety; nearly 18% of adults currently have or are being treated for depression; and the CDC reports that 10% of infected adults in the United States have long COVID.