COVID-19 or Not, Your Brain Has Changed

Cartoon of a brain lifting weights and sweating

By Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian, Christelle Langley, Deniz Vatansever

Coronavirus: the pandemic is changing our brains – here are the remedies

Whether you have contracted COVID-19 or not, your brain is likely to have changed over the past few months. The virus itself can cause a number of neurological problems, along with anxiety and depression. The isolation and worry caused by the pandemic can similarly alter our brain chemistry and cause mood disorders.

In our new paper, published in Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews, we have investigated how to best overcome the brain changes linked to the pandemic.

Let’s start with COVID-19 infection. In addition to mood disorders, common symptoms include fatigue, headaches, memory loss and problems with attention. There may be a number of reasons for these brain changes, including inflammation and cerebrovascular events (a syndrome caused by disruption of blood supply to the brain).

Research suggests that the virus may gain access to the brain via the forebrain’s olfactory bulb, which is important for the processing of smell. Loss of smell is a symptom in many patients with COVID-19.

As part of the system responsible for your sense of smell, the olfactory bulb sends information about smell to be further processed in other brain regions – including the amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex and the hippocampus – which play a major role in emotion, learning and memory.

Repeated stress is a major trigger for persistent inflammation in the body, which can also affect the brain and shrink the hippocampus and therefore affect our emotions. Really?!?

Originally published on theconversation.com August 14, 2020