A new study is underway to try and figure out why so many people who have mild or moderate COVID infections wind up with brain fog and memory loss issues.

Dr. William Hu, an associate professor and chief of cognitive neurology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, said about a quarter of the individuals who are in his Post- COVID Recovery Program have cognitive deficits that are similar to the warning signs of dementia for people typically in their 60s.

He said it appears the inflammation that is caused by the COVID infection is having an impact on their brains and in many of these people “the symptoms are still there over a year out from the initial infection.”

And while one might think the severity of a person's COVID infection determines whether they might get brain fog or not, that doesn't appear to make a difference.

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“There is really no relationship between how severe the initial COVID infection was and whether someone would develop cognitive symptoms or not,” Hu said.

Many unknowns remain

For now, researchers don't know how long those affected will be dealing with these cognitive problems.

“We don’t know if this is something like brain injury that you will be living with for the rest of your life or maybe two years out you get used to it and you compensate for it.”

There is concern, according to Hu, that these types of impacts could increase a person's chance for "future brain illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.”

Another concern Hu has is the strain post-COVID brain fog could have on the health care system.

“We are doubling the number of people with cognitive issues in our society, and our health care system is not really designed to handle that.”

In fact, Hu is predicting that within two years the number of people living with persistent brain could approach the number of those living with Alzheimer's.

An estimated 110,000 New Jerseyans have Alzheimer’s, and across the country, about 6 million are living with the disease.

Can this be treated?

Hu said some brain fog patients are being treated with antipsychotic and antidepressant medications and “in some other instances people have tried the Attention Deficit Disorder medications like a stimulant."

As for the results, Hu said they are "variable."

Hu recently received $100,000 in grant funding from TMCity, a private foundation based in California, to help support the project, which also will address whether COVID-19 infection accelerates the clinical manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease in people age 50 and above who otherwise would not have demonstrated symptoms until their 60s and 70s.

Hu said anyone interested in joining the study can get information by emailing memory411@rutgers.edu. The Post-COVID Recovery Program can be reached at 732-235-7840.

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