About one-third of recovered coronavirus patients in Hong Kong have reported memory loss, while a similar percentage experienced feelings of depression and anxiety that persisted for months after healing, a preliminary study has found.
Some of the 128 recovered patients surveyed by a team from Chinese University said they had found themselves forgetting the names of friends or unable to focus on tasks, while one elderly patient could not remember a hiking route he frequented near his home.
“These are just preliminary findings, and the study is not complete yet … but we can say these findings are certainly unprecedented and unexpected,” said Dr Arthur Mak Dun-ping, who is leading the research.
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“We hope more people can take part, so we can quickly complete the baseline study to help us estimate the prevalence of the problem.”
Mak is in charge of the Hong Kong arm of a global study looking into the pandemic’s impact not only on recovered Covid-19 patients, but ordinary residents, those quarantined in government facilities and health care workers.
Information for the latter three groups was still in the data collection or analysis stage and their results would be announced later, he said.
Recovered coronavirus patients across the globe have reported cognitive impairment following infection, one of the many symptoms of post-Covid-19 syndrome, also known as “long Covid”.
But Mak said his study’s findings were different compared to those gathered in initial reports from places such as Britain or the United States.
What we can recommend for patients with various degrees of cognitive impairment is aerobic exercise combined with mind-body workouts like yoga or tai chi
Dr Arthur Mak, Chinese University
“We started hearing scattered reports from Covid-19 survivors about cognitive impairments – not being able to recognise common routes or people – sometime at the end of last year. But these symptoms, along with emotional disorders like anxiety and depression are often common in people who have just recovered from acute illnesses,” he said.
The prevalence and persistence of the symptoms, however, was something not seen before, Mak said, even during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic.
The current group of 128 Hong Kong patients ranged in age from their 20s to their 70s, while many had gone through their initial illness as long as 10 months ago.
While other experts overseas have suggested the psychological and physical stress of fighting Covid-19 could be combining to create cognitive impairments, Mak said not knowing the exact cause of the problem made it difficult for doctors to treat patients experiencing those types of symptoms.
“What we can recommend for patients with various degrees of cognitive impairment is aerobic exercise combined with mind-body workouts like yoga or tai chi, as long as they can do it under safe conditions,” he said.
Meanwhile, another one-third of patients had shown signs of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even suicidal tendencies, according to the survey. Those numbers could decrease or increase as more subjects took part in the study, Mak said, underscoring the results were still preliminary.
He said his team hoped to find another 500 recovered Covid-19 patients who were located in Hong Kong and could read Chinese to participate in the study within the next one to two months.