Cognitive Training Can Offset Symptoms of 'COVID-Brain'
Some people who have recovered from COVID-19 describe a feeling of brain fog that persists months after resolution of many other symptoms.
COVID Brain … What does that phrase mean to you? In addition to the fact that those words make me increasingly anxious, I have heard them used in two very different contexts over the last year or so.
Initially, some psychologists began using that label to normalize and validate the fact that with our preoccupation with keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe, particularly during the early months of the pandemic, our attention was fractured; we were not sleeping; we were preoccupied and constantly multitasking. The cumulative effects of this made themselves known in a myriad of ways. I can’t find my keys! Did you see where I put my phone? What day is it? I can’t remember a thing I just read!
The examples are too numerous and diverse (and in some cases comical) to do justice in the recounting. Suffice it to say that people were very concerned, thinking perhaps they were developing a dementia much earlier than expected.
As reassuring as it was to have this normalized as an expected reaction to living through truly unsettling times, a new meaning to the phrase emerged in clinical literature in recent months.
Complication from COVID
COVID Brain (or COVID Brain Fog) is now also used to refer to a possible complication of COVID-19. Some people who have recovered from COVID-19 describe a feeling of brain fog that persists months after resolution of many other symptoms. In fact, a few recently published studies have demonstrated that some individuals not only experience cognitive confusion following COVID 19 infection, but, in fact, also show significant changes on brain scans.
If you are brave enough to continue reading, I have one more “hard-to-hear” fact to share with you. Regardless of COVID exposure or illness, brain scans can reveal changes in our brains indicative of cognitive decline 20-30 years prior to the onset of symptoms. That means the time to take action is now!
While many of the people I speak with are eager to know they’re doing all they can to preserve their cognitive abilities, very much aware that having their cognition as strong as possible is critical to their ability to age well and on their own terms, many others express an unwillingness to discuss the topic, fearful of stigma and what others might think. So, let’s start by addressing the stigma.
All of us lucky enough to live a long life will experience some form of age-related cognitive decline. This is not indicative of developing a dementia, but, nonetheless, may take the form of a decline in memory that makes us feel forgetful, a change in our visual spatial skills that may make parking challenging, a weakening in our ability to tune out distractions, which makes it hard to concentrate, or slight changes in our language and problem-solving abilities, which sometimes cause us to fall victim to scams targeting seniors.
Do I have your attention yet?
While not significant enough to impair our ability to function, these slight but noticeable changes are simply signs of an aging healthy brain, no more surprising than needing reading glasses in our 50s. The question is, can we embrace that as a badge of honor, which frees us up to talk openly about what helps and what doesn’t, which is the usual approach for non-cognitive aging issues such as joint pain and difficulty sleeping?
If you’re feeling inspired and ready to take action to slow this cognitive decline, now is the perfect time. One of the best steps you can take is to sign up for a cognitive training course.
Cognitive training is not simply doing crossword puzzles or playing games on our phones. Instead, it is a rigorous curriculum that strengthens each of the areas of our cognition that we count on every day, in a particular order, increasing in difficulty and speed from session to session. These areas include:
- Reaction Time
- Visual Spatial Skills
- Attention and Concentration
- Memory (four different types)
- Problem Solving
We are very lucky to have access to cognitive training classes in the Metro Detroit area, licensed through the New England Cognitive Center and facilitated by Jewish Family Service staff. Classes are forming now, consisting of fun, challenging, research-proven exercises for your brain. And best of all … there are no workout clothes required!
For more information, call (248) 788-MIND or email MindU@jfsdetroit.org.
Article contributed by Lynn Breuer, LMSW, CDP
Lynn Breuer is a licensed clinical social worker, a certified dementia practitioner, a health coach, a New England Cognitive Center master program trainer and a sought-after speaker. She serves as Senior Director of Community Outreach and Wellness at Jewish Family Service.