COVID-19 long-haulers frustrated, scared by brain fog

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Local doctors treating COVID-19 “long-haulers” — who can experience lingering problems months after contracting the virus — are seeing some struggle with symptoms similar to early dementia.

It’s called brain fog. There is no cure and it’s unclear how long it will last.

“It’s really frustrating that I can’t recall names, dates, even family members,” Raymond Clouatre said.

Clouatre was a healthy 56-year-old who was just starting to take advance of the Future for Frontliners scholarship program. He was in the process of switching from a postal worker to studying to start heating, ventilation and air conditioning work. Then, in late October, he contracted COVID-19. Almost right away, he started experiencing memory loss.

“It’s scary, it’s hard; very anxious. I want to withdraw so that I don’t have to deal with those situations, so that’s hard, too,” Clouatre described.

Medical experts believe about a third of COVID-19 patients will have some type of neurological illness ranging from brain fog to seizures and strokes. Those symptoms are seen in long-haulers, a term doctors use to refer to anyone with symptoms that last more than 12 weeks.

“These symptoms are very terrifying, and … it’s almost a random presentation despite one’s age or their life,” Spectrum Health family physician Dr. Kristopher Brenner said. “It’s very concerning.”

“It’s all of our hope in medicine that it’s something limited,” he added.

Spectrum Health says preliminary data shows that COVID-19 is neuro-invasive, meaning the virus can invade the brain and nearby nerves.

“They (brain fog patients) can’t remember what they came in the room to do. They forget what they did hours ago,” Brenner said.

People who have been diagnosed, like Clouatre, ask others for patience. He doesn’t know when he might get better.

“It’s real and just be patient with those people that have it and go through it with COVID. This isn’t made up symptoms,” Clouatre said.

Doctors say the best defense against brain fog or any other COVID-19 symptom is simple: get vaccinated.

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