| Cross-sectional case-control studies  

Persistent cognitive slowing in post-COVID patients: longitudinal study over 6 months

Fatigue is a frequent and one of the most debilitating symptoms in post-COVID syndrome (PCS). Recently, the authors of this article proposed that fatigue could be caused by hypoactivity of the brain’s arousal network and reflected by a reduction of cognitive processing speed. However, it is unclear whether cognitive slowing is revealed by standard neuropsychological tests, represents a selective deficit, and how it develops over time. In this prospective study the authors assessed whether PCS patients show deficits particularly in tests relying on processing speed and provides the first longitudinal assessment focusing on processing speed in PCS patients. In particular, eighty-eight PCS patients with cognitive complaints and 50 matched healthy controls underwent neuropsychological assessment. Seventy-seven patients were subsequently assessed at 6-month follow-up. The Test for Attentional Performance measured tonic alertness as primary study outcome and additional attentional functions. The Neuropsychological Assessment Battery evaluated all key cognitive domains.

Concerning the results, patients showed cognitive slowing indicated by longer reaction times compared to control participants (r=0.51, p < 0.001) in a simple-response tonic alertness task and in all more complex tasks requiring speeded performance. Reduced alertness correlated with higher fatigue (r = − 0.408, p < 0.001). Alertness dysfunction remained unchanged at 6-month follow-up (p = 0.240) and the same was true for most attention tasks and cognitive domains. The authors concluded that hypoarousal is a core deficit in PCS which becomes evident as a selective decrease of processing speed observed in standard neuropsychological tests. This core deficit persists without any signs of amelioration over a 6-month period of time.

Martin, E.M., Srowig, A., Utech, I. et al. Persistent cognitive slowing in post-COVID patients: longitudinal study over 6 months. J Neurol (2023).