Post-Covid Memory and Concentration Problems
Managing the Effects on Memory and Thinking
Most people who have had COVID will heal with no prolonged impact on their memory and concentration. Some people experience mild difficulties that do not last for long.
Other people, especially those who have had a serious disease and been admitted to intensive care might find problems last longer.
People who had some memory issues before becoming sick might find that they worsen afterward, these changes might be mild and might not last for long.
How could COVID affect memory and thinking?
Memory - If your memory is affected, you might find it hard to hold information in your head in order to use it to make decisions based on that information, you might struggle to recall something that has occurred, or forget to take medication on time.
Attention and concentration - Problems with attention/concentration could make it hard to focus and ignore distractions. So, it might be difficult to find the could opener in the cluttered utensil drawer, help your child/grandchild with homework, or hold a conversation, while the TV is on, or keep up-to-date on conversations that are fast-paced or involve more than one other person. It might be more difficult to do two things at the same time and not be distracted when trying to focus on a task.
Executive functions - Executive functions are the mental processes that enable us to solve issues, make decisions, plan ahead, and see tasks through to completion.
For instance, executive functions are required to deal with issues, organize a holiday, get the car fixed, and find a new job or a new place to live.
People with executive functioning issues usually seem disorganized, impulsive, and not thinking things through. They might find it difficult to get going on tasks or begin a task but not see it through, perhaps getting distracted by something irrelevant and not noticing that they have drifted off-task.
Why does COVID affect memory and thinking?
There are several reasons why people who have been ill with coronavirus may experience difficulties in their memory and thinking skills.
Fatigue is common after viral infections and could affect your ability to concentrate. You might feel that you do not have the mental energy required to pay attention to things, even when you think something is crucial. If you cannot focus on something, it is harder to remember it. If you have returned to work it might be difficult to focus on work tasks, particularly the less interesting tasks, as trying to concentrate could feel exhausting. Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for helping your memory and thinking.
Fear and Anxiety
The COVID pandemic has been a worrying time and for some people, it might have caused high levels of anxiety and even panic attacks. Being hospitalized has been a stressful experience for most people.
If you spent time in an Intensive Care Unit, this might have been distressing, and you might find that you keep thinking about your experience, and find that troublesome memories pop into your mind, you might also have nightmares about your experiences.
Anxiety, worry, intrusive thoughts, and images could all affect concentration, and as we talked about with fatigue, if you cannot concentrate it is difficult to remember things, think through issues, and make decisions.
The low mood could affect memory and thinking. During the Coronavirus pandemic, many people have faced situations that might have become overwhelming and lead to low mood. Like anxiety, low mood affects the ability to focus and remember things.
In a few individuals, COVID causes inflammation in the brain. If this was the case, your team of health care professionals will have told you that tests showed evidence of brain inflammation called “encephalitis” its effects depend on which parts of the brain have been damaged. These usually include trouble with attention/concentration, memory and the ability to solve problems, make decisions, plan and organize.
Acute-respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
Some people with COVID develop a kind of respiratory failure caused by serious inflammation of the lungs called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Patients who develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) are generally admitted to intensive care and often their breathing is supported by a mechanical ventilator. The brain is very dependent on oxygen and if oxygen levels are low for a period of time there could be damage to the brain. The impact on memory and thinking will depend on the parts of the brain that are involved.
Your health care team might have told you that you have suffered a stroke as a result of having COVID. However, it is rare, COVID could affect blood vessels, and this might have caused blood clots to form which travelled to the brain and stopped the blood flow to a part of the brain. The consequences of this depend on which part of the brain is affected but could include physical, cognitive, or emotional issues.
How to manage memory or thinking difficulties
The first step to managing issues with memory and thinking is to accept that you have them. Especially if you have not had any formal testing or explanation, which is common, it could be difficult to accept that the issues you are having are real. Sometimes this leads people to continuously be trying to test themselves in order to show they are ok or not. Although, issues with memory and thinking are normal for many people who have been in hospital or had COVID.
If you ask people in your family they will probably have noticed changes as well, asking them may help in two ways firstly it may help you accept that there is an issue and secondly, it will help you and your family to feel that you could talk about it and think together about ways of coping rather than trying to circumvent the subject. This will almost certainly relieve pressure on both you and them healing from COVID is enough to cope with, without the added pressure of trying to keep issues hidden.
Discussing the issues with those around you, family, friends, or colleagues, also enables you to ask them to help you at home, you could ask family or friends to remind you to do a task on a specific day or time. At work, you might be able to ask colleagues to do the same.
A crucial part of managing the impact of memory and thinking issues is managing your daily activities, in particular applying the 3 P’s – Pacing, Planning, and Prioritising.
There are also a few certain techniques that could help manage each kind of problem:
Managing attention and focusing on problems
If your attention capacity is limited, it could be very helpful to lower distractions. If you are trying to do something demanding such as fill out a complicated form, find a time and place that is quiet, and ask others around you not to disturb you. You may also find listening to gentle instrumental music helps. Check out music streaming platforms for “concentration” or “focus” playlists and see what works for you. Also, ensure that you plan regular breaks and try to keep things interesting by adding in interesting tasks with others that are a bit duller and reward yourself for go through the tasks you are less interested in.
Managing memory issues
If you find that you have issues remembering to do things or if you struggle to remember things you have done or information you have been told then it could really help to use an external aid to share the load. You may wonder where you could get one from but in fact, you probably have one within arm’s reach that could carry out most of the same tasks that our memories do, but much more reliably.
Remembering to do things – You could use your phone’s calendar app to automatically remind you when you have to do things from sending a birthday card to putting the rubbish bins out! If you do not have a mobile phone, or your phone does not have a calendar app or reminders. Then get yourself a good old-fashioned paper calendar, ensure it has plenty of space for each day then add things to it and get into the habit of checking it at regular times of the day, say first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.
Remembering things that you have done – You could enter notes into your phone, either by typing a note in or, even easier by using a voice recorder. You will probably be having most appointments with health professionals via phone this could pose a problem as you cannot ask them to write something down for you, although you could ask them to repeat some important piece of information while you are recording using your phone.
You could also use the phone’s camera to capture visual information that you require to remember. If you do not have your phone to hand, or you do not have a mobile phone, then good old-fashioned paper and pencil could be a great help to get used to carrying a small notepad and pen around with you.
Managing executive issues
Setting up a normal routine that works well for you, will lower the demands on your brain. Think through all the things you want to do regularly every single day, or every week, put them into a schedule, and practice this routine till it becomes second nature.
Planning – Make a clear plan before approaching any new or complicated issue or situation, break the issue down into all the steps you require to take, write each one down and what you require for it, and then follow it. Keep checking back to your plan to check you have not gone off course and also to check if you require to change your plan.
Stop and think – Try and establish a habit of pausing during any complex activity and taking a moment to think. Ask yourself “what did I set out to do?”, “how am I getting on?” “Do I require to change my approach? Or do I require to take a break?”
What if I am continuing to have issues?
Healthcare professionals could help you:
You can talk with your general practitioner (GP) to identify what support is available. Your doctor or primary care physician could discuss whether referral to an occupational therapist or psychologist for cognitive rehabilitation and is available in your region might be useful to help you manage your cognitive difficulties.
If are being followed up by the hospital, do let your health professional know that you are experiencing these issues. Your doctor or primary care physician could discuss whether referral to an occupational therapist or psychologist for “cognitive rehabilitation” might be useful to help you manage your difficulties.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from post covid memory and concentration problems, our expert providers at Post Covid Centers will take care of your health and help you recover.