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Wall Street Journal: New Long Covid Treatments Borrow From Brain Rehab Tactics

Posted By Megan Washburn


Wall Street Journal


Cognitive problems are some of the most persistent and common long-term symptoms that people struggle with months after getting Covid. Patients report short-term memory problems, slow processing speeds, poor word recall and difficulty multitasking. To help them, doctors at medical centers including Mayo Clinic, Yale and Johns Hopkins are starting to refer some patients to cognitive rehabilitation more typically used for patients with concussions and other traumatic brain injuries.

Patients who perform below average on cognitive tests and feel they are impaired in their daily activities get a cognitive behavioral evaluation, says Dr. Koralnik. Based on the results, some patients are referred to cognitive rehab.

Andrew McCoy is among them. The 55-year-old tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19 in October and says he started experiencing cognitive issues a month later. Suddenly, he could no longer remember common words. He had trouble remembering events from the previous day and where he had placed items. “My short-term memory was horrific,” says Mr. McCoy, a vice president for a Fortune 500 life-science company. “It affected my daily life in such an incredibly negative way. I literally couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner the evening prior.”

A series of neuropsychology tests showed he had cognitive deficits, he says. Dr. Koralnik referred him to Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a physical medicine and rehabilitation research hospital in Chicago. There he met with a speech-language pathologist as well as occupational and physical therapists.

He learned to journal his daily events and now routinely fills eight to 10 pages in his journal every day. “Journaling in real time helps me keep up with my thoughts and complex information coming from multiple sources,” he says. He meditates briefly throughout the day. He takes pictures of his car when he parks in large lots. He tries to place things in the same place and learned to concentrate on using simpler words to avoid problems with word recall. “I’m more disciplined and habitual about things,” he says.

Mr. McCoy says he’s made significant progress over the past month, although an evaluation at Northwestern in January showed he still had some deficits in short-term memory and processing speed.

Now, he says he feels about 90% back to normal using the coping mechanisms he learned in rehab. “People just have to adapt and find what works for them,” he says. “The strategies really help. You can be a really high-functioning person one day and then really have these sorts of deficits and you do need help.”

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