Researchers link severe COVID-19 cases to mental decline equal to aging a decade

People that have suffered severe cases of COVID-19 may experience mental decline equal to the brain aging by a decade, according to a new study released this month.  

Researchers from the U.K. analyzed the test data of over 84,000 participants who took the Great British Intelligence Test and were suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19. 

The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that people who had recovered from severe cases of the disease exhibited “significant cognitive deficit” after controlling for other factors such as age, gender and pre-existing medical conditions. 

Some deficits were of “substantial effect size,” the researchers found, specifically among those who had been hospitalized and those who had mild cases and reported no difficulty breathing. However, among those who ended up on a ventilator, the deficits were “equivalent to the average 10-year decline in global performance between the ages of 20 to 70.” 

The cognitive decline could be the result of other health events that are thought to be associated with COVID-19 such as stoke, inflammatory syndrome and micro bleeds, according to the study.

COVID-19 is a disease that can have critical impacts on the upper respiratory system, leading patients with severe cases to require supplemental oxygen. As a result, researchers in the study have also hypothesized that hypoxia in the brain could also lead to cognitive decline. 

However, they write, “it is yet to be established whether COVID-19 infection is associated with cognitive impairment at the population level; and if so, how this differs with respiratory symptom severity and relatedly, hospitalisation status. Measuring such associations is challenging.”

In all, the scientists said that their findings “align with the view that there are chronic cognitive consequences of having COVID-19. Individuals who recovered from suspected or confirmed COVID-19 perform worse on cognitive tests in multiple domains than would be expected given their detailed age and demographic profiles.” 

The researchers said their study should be a “clarion call” for more research into the basis cognitive deficits in recovered COVID-19 patients. 

Some scientists say that the study’s results should be viewed cautiously. 

Derek Hill, a professor of medical imaging science at University College London, told Reuters that the study did not compare before and after scores of participants, and that a large number of them only self-reported having the virus without a positive test. 

“Overall (this is) an intriguing but inconclusive piece of research into the effect of COVID on the brain,” Hill told Reuters. “As researchers seek to better understand the long term impact of COVID, it will be important to further investigate the extent to which cognition is impacted in the weeks and months after the infection, and whether permanent damage to brain function results in some people.”

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50,000 children in Louisiana are without health insurance, the largest increase in a decade | Health care/Hospitals

Roughly 11,000 children in Louisiana lost their health insurance last year, the largest single-year drop in over a decade and an alarming reversal of years of progress getting kids covered.

About 50,000 children, or 4.4% of children in Louisiana, were uninsured in the state in 2019, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the Louisiana Budget Project, compared to 39,000 children who lacked health insurance in 2018. In 2016, the number of uninsured children was even lower, at 36,000.

The data in Louisiana mirror a nationwide trend that experts fear will worsen amid job losses and an unstable economy due to the coronavirus.



What contributes to Louisiana's high maternal mortality rate? The distance to care, research says

22 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes have no hospital offering obstetric care, birth center, OB/GYN or certified nurse-midwives 

“This reflected 2019, which was a year in which we had record low unemployment and a decade of strong economic growth,” said Stacey Roussel, policy director for the Louisiana Budget Project and author of the report. “Still, we were seeing the uninsured rate for children rising across the country as well as here in Louisiana.”

“It also means a record increase in the number of families without insurance for their children as we were going into the largest public health emergency we’ve seen in our generation,” she added.

Access to health care is critical for young brains and bodies, according to researchers and medical experts.

In the first few years of life, over 80% of brain development takes place and the foundation is laid for growth of major body systems.

Interventions are most effective when doctors can spot conditions at a young age before they become a bigger issue.

“Preventative care is the hallmark of pediatric care,” said Dr. Ryan Pasternak, an adolescent medicine specialist and associate professor at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine. “Our goal is not only to identify and treat acute and chronic illnesses, but also to address and identify lifelong illnesses.”

Even short gaps in care can allow things to slip through. Pasternak said he saw a young patient this month who lost Medicaid and put off care for seven months. When the patient regained coverage, it was a two and a half hour visit.

“There were just a plethora of issues that had not been addressed,” Pasternak said.

Boy born 22 weeks into mother’s pregnancy

It’s not yet clear exactly why Louisiana’s number of uninsured children has grown so much in a year.

In 2016, Louisiana expanded Medicaid to include those making up to 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $36,000 for a family of four as of 2020. By April 2019, the expansion provided coverage to more than 500,000 additional people.

But in May of last year, Medicaid enrollment dipped after wage checks that automatically kicked off people appearing to make too much money to qualify, dropping by about 50,000 enrollees by the of 2019. But in January, enrollment started to climb again, with 550,000 people covered by the expansion as of Sept. 2020. 

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US suicide rate fell last year after decade of steady rise

The U.S. suicide rate fell slightly last year, the first annual decline in more than a decade

NEW YORK — The U.S. suicide rate fell slightly last year, the first annual decline in more than a decade, according to new government data.

It’s a small decrease and the data is preliminary, but the decline is “really exciting,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The fall may be partly due to years of suicide prevention efforts, like increasing mental health screenings, she said. Other factors, like the pre-pandemic economy, might also have played a role, she added.

Suicides had been on the rise since 2005. In 2018, the national suicide rate hit its highest level since 1941 — 14.2 per 100,000 people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted new death rate data this week showing that for 2019, it dropped to 13.9.

Drug overdoses rose in 2019, and deaths from falls were up, too. But death rates for the nation’s two biggest killers — heart disease and cancer — were down, as were death rates for flu, chronic lung disease and Alzheimer’s disease. The firearm death rate was flat, probably because the small decline in suicides was offset by a slight uptick in gun homicides.

When all that is factored together, the U.S. life expectancy calculation for 2019 should stay the same as it was in 2018 or maybe even increase slightly, said Robert Anderson, who oversees death data for the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

“I think 2019 will turn out to be a pretty good year for mortality, relatively speaking,” Anderson said. “2020 will not.”

There have been at least 300,000 more deaths this year than expected, the CDC said this week in a separate report. About two-thirds of those are being attributed directly to COVID-19, but many of the others are believed to be related to the pandemic.

It’s not yet clear whether suicides are up this year.

The pandemic sparked a wave of business closures, some temporary and some permanent. Millions of people were forced to stay at home, many of them alone. Surveys suggest more Americans are reporting depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol use. Adding to that dangerous mix, firearm purchases rose 85% in March, when the virus was first surging.

“There are clear forces pressing suicide risk factors in a negative direction,” Moutier said, but that’s doesn’t mean suicide rates will automatically rise.

There are some “silver linings” to the pandemic, she added. One is increasing acceptance that mental health distress is normal, and that it’s OK to seek counseling. Another is increasing availability of telemedicine.

Anderson noted many COVID-19 deaths have been in the same set of late-middle-aged white people who are considered at high risk for

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