The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our collective health and well-being cannot be understated: as a society, we went through a whirlwind of unknowns that lasted for the better part of three years. While life has gone back to “normal” in many ways, the long-term effects of COVID on our physical and mental health linger for many of us.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), long COVID is broadly defined as the continuation of COVID-19 symptoms, signs, and conditions long after the initial infection. It is reported to affect 1 in 13 adults in the United States and approximately 65 million people worldwide, with the numbers being much higher, as many people self-diagnose at home and don’t show up in official numbers.
Long COVID is no joke: it’s classified as a disability by both the Americans with Disabilities and the Affordable Care Act. 2 to 4 million Americans are unable to work due to the disease and are living with a significantly impaired quality of life.
In this article, we’ll go over long COVID symptoms, possible causes, and treatment plans. We’ll also be looking at how neurofeedback can be used to restore cognitive function and relieve COVID-related anxiety and insomnia.
What are the symptoms of long COVID?
As with Covid-19, the symptoms associated with its longer form are diverse. They can be categorized as follows:
- Respiratory symptoms: shortness of breath, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
- Neurological symptoms: cognitive difficulties such as brain fog and difficulty concentrating, headaches, dizziness, sleep issues, and neuropathy.
- Body aches: fatigue, post-exertional malaise, joint stiffness.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms: nausea, loss of appetite.
- Sensory symptoms: loss of taste and smell.
- Mental health symptoms: depression, anxiety, emotional distress.
In addition to the above-mentioned symptoms, Covid-19 can lead to the onset of full-blown medical conditions such as myalgic encephalomyelitis, small fiber neuropathy, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
What causes long COVID?
Scientists don’t know exactly what causes long COVID, but recent studies suggest that the syndrome actually brings together a number of physiological changes and diseases. In a recent interview with the American Medical Association, Ph.D. Akiko Iwasaki of Yale University explains how the scientific community is currently exploring how the following scenarios relate to long COVID:
While working tirelessly to better understand long COVID and pinpoint its causes, scientists have another important task at hand: that of treating it.
What is the treatment for long COVID?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all cure for long COVID. Treatment plans focus on relieving the symptoms and are currently unable to address the root cause. While some studies have shown that certain medications, such as Paxlovid or metformin, may reduce the risk of developing long Covid when taken during the acute phase of the disease, evidence to their effectiveness is still scarce.
It’s important to note that even though this information may sound discouraging, many people suffering from Covid do, in fact, get better. A study published in the British Medical Journal signals that most cases resolve within a year.
While patience may prove to be an important ingredient to most treatment plans, everything else is tailored to address the symptoms. One of the most common and debilitating ones is brain fog, and fortunately, this is where Tennessee Neurofeedback can actually give a helping hand.
Treating COVID Brain Fog with Neurofeedback
The plethora of cognitive symptoms associated with long COVID mostly revolve around short-term memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and attention impairment.
These issues may correlate with certain changes in brainwave activity, as shown in a recent study by Kopanska et. all, where 20 individuals with pre-existing qEEG (quantitative encephalographies, or “maps” that show electrical activity in specific areas of the brain) had their brain activity re-analyzed after being diagnosed with Covid-19-related brain fog. The results showed clear changes in EEG activity (increased theta and alpha wave activity in the right brain hemisphere and increased beta 2 activity in both hemispheres), and while correlation does not imply causation, these findings show promise and call for further investigation.
How does neurofeedback work?
Neurofeedback, also known as EEG biofeedback, is a technique that involves providing real-time feedback to the brain to promote self-regulation and enhance performance. Through operant conditioning, which involves rewarding desired behaviors and discouraging undesired ones (usually through pleasant sounds and images), neurofeedback aims to rewire the brain and bring its activity back to „normal”. By placing electrodes on the scalp to monitor brain activity, we can provide immediate feedback when deviations from optimal parameters are detected. This helps train the brain to regulate itself and improve overall functioning.
Is there a neurofeedback protocol for Covid-related brain fog?
While there may not be a specific neurofeedback protocol designed to target Covid brain fog, there are reliable ones for helping people concentrate, pay attention, sleep better, and relieve anxiety – or, in other words, its manifestation. We’ve written at length about the benefits of neurofeedback for improving cognitive performance, sleep, and anxiety, and depending on what areas you’re having the most trouble with, we can identify the best course of action and start working on getting you back to your cognitive best.
It’s important to note that neurofeedback takes time to work – research shows that, for optimal results, between 40 to 60 neurofeedback sessions are required. We usually start off with 20 sessions and then do a second brain map to assess progress and make recommendations based on what we find.
If it sounds like a lot, don’t fret – at Tennesse Neurofeedback we have a one-week intensive neurofeedback program that condenses 15+ sessions in 7-10 days. We know time is of the essence when treating difficult long Covid symptoms such as brain fog and anxiety, and we’re ready to stand by your side every step of the way.
Living with Long Covid
You can maximize the results of your treatment plan by actively helping your body heal through actions such as:
- getting a minimum of 8 hours of quality sleep every night
- eating nutritious food
- minimizing stress
- if possible, engaging in physical activity
If you are struggling with your mental health during recovery, make sure to get in touch with a licensed therapist or reach out to one of the 24/7 support hotlines for mental distress. Recovery may take time, but it’s important not to lose hope.