I often use this column as a means to look for solutions for my own problems. Covid brain is a prime example. While I've been lucky enough to avoid catching the virus thus far, being stuck at home and shut off from much of the creative and social stimulation I used to rely on, I've found my brain seems to be working more slowly and my recall can be hilariously (infuriatingly) bad.
The good news is that I'm apparently not an outlier. A host of experts say that pandemic-related brain fog is a real thing with clear physiological explanations. This makes me feel less weird, but also left me wondering: If the experts understand the condition, can't they also maybe suggest something I might be able to do about it?
The answer, according to a fascinating recent Atlantic article, is yes. Pamela Weintraub reports on doctors' efforts to help Covid patients facing long-term cognitive deficits -- a.k.a. "Covid brain fog." That definitely isn't me, but after reading the piece, a lot of the interventions suggested by medical experts sound like they could also help those of us fortunate enough to be afflicted with garden-variety pandemic brain.
How to combat Covid brain, according to doctors
As you may have heard, long-haul Covid is actually quite common. As many as one-in-three patients experience symptoms lasting longer than two weeks, and one of their most frequent complaints is issues with focus and memory. The prevalence and severity of the problem has pushed doctors to scramble to find effective treatments.
Weintraub chronicles their efforts in detail before outlining the techniques doctors have seen help patients recover their ability to think clearly and remember details. They include simple interventions like:
restoring good sleep hygiene
limiting daytime naps and screen time before bed
yoga, meditation, and/or tai chi
a gradual increase in the complexity of cognitive tasks, starting with reading headlines or short articles and moving on from there
mental exercises, such as memorizing increasingly long lists or summarizing articles
These straightforward techniques seem to pay off. "The majority of patients have noticeably improved after two months, and still more are improved after four," one clinician tells Weintraub. Another reports that most patients "appear to be better by the six-month mark, and many have resumed their pre-Covid responsibilities." Responses vary person-to-person, and some sufferers have yet to fully recover their previous level of functioning.
These caveats aside, the effectiveness of these treatments is great news for long-haul Covid sufferers. I wonder if it might also be good news for those like me with more moderate cases of "pandemic brain" unrelated to an actual infection.
The treatments listed by Weintraub immediately struck me as good advice for anyone teetering on the edge of burnout. These are all low risk, research-backed mental health boosters. And if they can help those fighting the long-term mental effects of this nasty virus, certainly they're worth a try for those who are merely struggling with the cumulative effects of a year of intense stress, boredom, and isolation. I for one am going to give them a try.