'It’s just the beginning': Joint study exploring long-term impact of COVID-19 on the brain
LONDON, ONT. -- Two Canadian universities and one hospital are partnering to study the potential long-term cognitive impact COVID-19 could have on the brain.
Western University, the University of Toronto and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre (SHSC) have launched a new website: covidbrainstudy.com
Researchers at the three sites hope to have 50,000 COVID-19 survivors take part, in as little as a month time.
With over eight million recovering world-wide, they are confident it is achievable.
“I want to move this really quickly, the time is now. If we are really going to understand the trajectory of this disease, we can’t do this in a year’s time,” said Adrian Owen, a cognitive neuroscience and imaging professor, based at Western.
Owen tells CTV News the study comes as there is growing alarm, world-wide, about the impacts of COVID-19 on brain health.
“We are starting to see more and more reports of people coming out of COVID-19 and reporting cognitive problems.”
Owen has partnered with Dr. Rich Swartz with SHSC and the University of Toronto.
So far there has been little research into the effect and longer-term impacts of the disease, according to the research team.
“We also need to understand whether COVID-19 patients are getting better or worse over time,” said Swartz.
The study will ask volunteers to login online and answer a series of questions, including whether or not a person required a ventilator to recover from the virus.
Owen says the format is anonymous.
Once the information is collected, he contends researchers could better determine which areas of the brain, if any, are impacted.
“Is it memory? Is it concentration? Is it problem-solving? How severe are these effects? Are these only some people? Are they people only on ventilators, but not everybody else?”
Already researchers can build on existing data. A study by Owens Labs in 2019 looked at impact of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) visits on non-COVID patients.
Owens says it found almost all ICU patients have cognitive impairment at discharge.
“These can be related to being in the ICU environment. Effects on breathing, effects of being on a ventilator, effects of sedation. Each can lead to long-term consequences. All of these factors are possibly involved.”
Further, he believes as the number of ICU patients recovering from COVID-19 rises, more cognitive problems will be noted by doctors.
The ICU “is not the end of care,” for these patients, he contends.
- With files from CTV's Justin Zadorsky