Such sudden cognitive dysfunction is a common concern for those seniors who have survived COVID-19, according to Kaiser Health News.
Marilyn Walters, 65, has battled what she calls “brain fog,” as have other older people who were previously critically ill with COVID-19.
“Lord, give me back my memory,” she regularly prays.
Walters, who lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, told the outlet, “I still get tired real easy, and I can’t breathe sometimes. If I’m walking, sometimes my legs get wobbly, and my arms get like jelly.”
“Emotionally, it’s been hard, because I’ve always been able to do for myself, and I can’t do that as I like. I’ve been really nervous and jittery,” Walters said. In March and April, she spent three weeks heavily sedated, on a ventilator and fighting for her life in an intensive care unit (ICU).
According to Dr. Zijian Chen, medical director of the Center for Post-COVID Care at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, “many older patients are having trouble organizing themselves and planning what they need to do to get through the day.”
“They’re reporting that they’ve become more and more forgetful,” he added.
Additionally, such patients must deal with other challenges like overcoming muscle and nerve damage, improving their breathing, adapting to their new limitations or impairments, regaining their strength and stamina and coping with the emotional and mental toll of going through such an unexpected illness.
According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most seniors who contract COVID-19 will survive it, and so they will likely have to deal with those issues to varying degrees. Among the age group at greatest risk, people 85 and older, 28% of those with confirmed cases end up dying. Since there are gaps in testing, the actual death rate may be lower, notes Kaiser Health News.
“In older adults, delirium is associated with a heightened risk of losing independence, developing dementia and dying,” the outlet notes. “It can manifest as acute confusion and agitation or as uncharacteristic unresponsiveness and lethargy.”
“What we’re seeing with COVID-19 and older adults are rates of delirium in the 70% to 80% range,” said Dr. Babar Khan, associate director of Indiana University’s Center for Aging Research at the Regenstrief Institute, as well as one of Walters’ physicians.
Another COVID-19 survivor, 77-year-old Chicago documentary filmmaker Gordon Quinn, related his coronavirus experience to Kaiser Health News.
“I remember vividly believing I was in purgatory. I was paralyzed - I couldn’t move. I could hear snatches of TV - reruns of ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ - and I asked myself, ‘Is this my life for eternity?’” Quinn said.
Given the extent of delirium and mounting evidence of neurological damage from COVID-19, Khan said he expects to see “an increased prevalence of ICU-acquired cognitive impairment in older COVID patients.”
Dr. E. Wesley Ely of Vanderbilt University Medical center recommends that upon leaving the hospital and returning home, such patients ought to receive physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and cognitive rehabilitation, noted Kaiser Health News.