When to Seek Help for Cognitive Issues
Published October 2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some survivors of the disease have reported feeling a sense of "brain fog." While this is not a medical term, it broadly refers to issues with cognitive functions.
"We've seen a lot of patients with these issues so far," says Joshua Gabriel Cahan, MD, a cognitive neurologist at Northwestern Medicine Neurobehavior and Memory Clinic and physician in the Neuro COVID-19 Clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "I personally have seen cognitive issues related to COVID-19 in a notable number of young people and people who are still working."
Dr. Cahan says that most patients he has seen at the clinic have had mild cognitive issues. They are often related to trouble with attention, planning, organization and flexible thinking. Still, since symptoms of "brain fog" due to COVID-19 can be similar to the earliest signs of cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia, you should know when to seek medical help.
"The relationship between COVID-19 and future development of neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer's is unknown, but the timeline of symptom onset and progression generally help to distinguish the two", Dr, Cahan explains. A clinician can confirm your diagnosis and recommend treatment.
Dr. Cahan recommends that you see a specialist if you have trouble with any of the following:
- Remembering details of events or conversations
- Forming language
- Processing visual information
- Changes in mood and/or personality
- Performing day-to-day tasks
This list is not exhaustive. Note that symptoms of cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer's, can also vary from person to person.
So, if you are concerned about the cognitive condition of yourself or a loved one, see a specialist for diagnosis and treatment.
Following a diagnosis, explore and develop a care plan with your specialist. There are also support groups and classes that can help you navigate care.
Above all, Dr. Cahan notes that being patient is the best thing you can do when caring for yourself or someone with cognitive illness.
"Blame the disease, and not the person," he explains. "It can be frustrating to deal with these problems, but it's best handled in a supportive and loving manner rather than through conflict."