COVID Long Haulers go to Rehab
Before the pandemic, patients came to Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez to address traumatic brain injuries. But now, Verduzco-Gutierrez, who is the chair of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, says she’s seeing a different type of patient: Covid long haulers.
That’s because people with traumatic brain injuries and long Covid have something in common. They suffer from many of the same symptoms, among them concentration issues, memory problems, brain fog and trouble with decision-making abilities.
Verduzco-Gutierrez has treated more than 600 of these patients at the clinic where she works in San Antonio. There’s no real treatment protocol for long Covid, which can cause an astonishingly wide range of symptoms. So she is applying her expertise in brain injury medicine to long haulers, who now make up more than 75% of her practice.
Verduzco-Gutierrez isn’t the only doctor seeing this, either. Rehab facilities across the country have started to take in long Covid patients during the pandemic. The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, one of the country’s top rehab centers, went so far as to open a wing dedicated to Covid patients.
Steve Jackson, the AbilityLab’s director of outpatient therapy, said that overall referrals for cognitive therapy have gone up during the pandemic, with most patients reporting brain fog or simply that they still “don’t feel normal.” They’ve seen more than 750 Covid patients throughout the pandemic.
A study published this week highlights some of the same issues Verduzco-Gutierrez and Jackson have seen in their respective clinics. The authors assessed 46 patients in the U.K. six to 10 months after they were hospitalized for Covid-19 and found significant “cognitive deficits that persist into the chronic phase.”
The effect is comparable to losing 10 IQ points, one of the authors told Bloomberg. It was even worse for patients that experienced severe Covid symptoms, such as those who required ventilators. And recovery was slower for those case subjects, too.
Verduzco-Gutierrez tailors her treatment approach to the specific symptoms patients are suffering from. For example, patients struggling with cognitive difficulties can’t remember certain words, have difficulty concentrating or can’t shake brain fog. So, they often require speech therapy or other strategies aimed at improving memory and cognition.
“Some people have more success than others, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to rehabilitate them,” Verduzco-Gutierrez told me in an interview. “It’s life changing for some, but it’s not a magic cure.” —Madison Muller
Read the full story at Bloomberg News.