‘I Feel Like I Have Dementia’: Brain Fog Plagues Covid Survivors

‘I Feel Like I Have Dementia’: Brain Fog Plagues Covid Survivors. By Pam Belluck.

After contracting the coronavirus in March, Michael Reagan lost all memory of his 12-day vacation in Paris, even though the trip was just a few weeks earlier.

Several weeks after Erica Taylor recovered from her Covid-19 symptoms of nausea and cough, she became confused and forgetful, failing to even recognize her own car, the only Toyota Prius in her apartment complex’s parking lot.

Lisa Mizelle, a veteran nurse practitioner at an urgent care clinic who fell ill with the virus in July, finds herself forgetting routine treatments and lab tests, and has to ask colleagues about terminology she used to know automatically. …

It’s becoming known as Covid brain fog: troubling cognitive symptoms that can include memory loss, confusion, difficulty focusing, dizziness and grasping for everyday words. Increasingly, Covid survivors say brain fog is impairing their ability to work and function normally.

“There are thousands of people who have that,” said Dr. Igor Koralnik, chief of neuro-infectious disease at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, who has already seen hundreds of survivors at a post-Covid clinic he leads. “The impact on the work force that’s affected is going to be significant.

Numbers are still elusive, but there are more impaired people than died of covid:

A French report in August on 120 patients who had been hospitalized found that 34 percent had memory loss and 27 percent had concentration problems months later.

In a soon-to-be-published survey of 3,930 members of Survivor Corps, a group of people who have connected to discuss life after Covid, over half reported difficulty concentrating or focusing … Memory problems, dizziness or confusion were reported by a third or more respondents. …

Case, no longer working:

When Ms. Taylor, 31, contracted the virus in mid-June, she thought she’d need only a brief break from working as a lawyer for an Atlanta nonprofit helping low-income tenants.

But she became so disoriented that she washed her TV remote with her laundry and had to return a foster dog she’d recently taken in because she couldn’t trust herself to care for a pet.

One morning, “everything in my brain was white static,” she said. “I was sitting on the edge of the bed, crying and feeling ‘something’s wrong, I should be asking for help,’ but I couldn’t remember who or what I should be asking. I forgot who I was and where I was.”

By July, she thought she’d improved and told her boss she could return. But after another “white static” episode, she messaged him: “I’m scared. I really want to get back to work. But, I keep getting really tired and really confused.” He suggested she rest and heal.

She resumed working in early August, but her mind wandered and reading emails was “like reading Greek,” she said. By September, her employer urged a 13-week leave.

“They finally landed on ‘You’re going to have to step away,’” said Ms. Taylor, who requested to volunteer for the nonprofit while on leave but was told no. “I’m gutted, to be honest.”

Case:

This summer, Mr. Reagan, the vascular medicine specialist, turned the stove on to cook eggs and then absent-mindedly left to walk the dog, Wolff-Parkinson-White, named after a cardiac arrhythmia. Returning to discover a dangerously hot empty pan, he panicked and hasn’t cooked since. …

Case:

Mr. Sullivan navigates a spectrum of cognitive speed bumps. In the mildest state, which he calls “fluffy,” his head feels heavy. In the middling phase, “fuzzy,” he said, “I become angry when people talk to me because it hurts my brain to try and pay attention.” Most severe is “fog,” when “I cannot function” and “I sit and stare, unmotivated to move, my mind racing.”

Even slight mental or physical exertion can trigger his fog, and Mr. Sullivan, laid off before the pandemic from a senior position with a photography company, said many days he could manage only two responsibilities: “Clean the kitty litter and pick up dog poop.”

Even that was anxiety-provoking. “To me, it was a series of 15 or 16 tasks,” he said. “Oh, my God, I have to find a bag to put the litter in, then I have to take the lid off.”

Clair Beard, caught covid in March:

I should add that I am a Harvard-trained physician with a full-time Harvard appointment and thirty years of work experience at two Longwood hospitals. I remember nothing until July and very little since then. My primary care tells me that I ‘dodged a bullet.’ I cannot describe the frustration and depression that comes with losing one’s intellect.

The impairment hypothesis, under which death of the old or sick is just a side effect, is alive and well. Ask the Chinese bioweapons lab, they made it. China locked down harder than anyone, because they sure didn’t want to catch it.

Imagine an highly contagious endemic disease that goes around and around, people catching it again every year or two. It mainly seems harmless, so people don’t go all ebola on it. But each time you catch it, there is a few percent chance of being cognitively impaired. After a decade, half the population is daffy or only semi-functional.

How easy would it be for a healthy China to conquer the world?