If you had memory problems before you got COVID, you might notice that your memory problems are worse.
Research is still being carried out to learn more about the effects of COVID on memory and focus. This information will be used to give the public advice about the best ways to recover after COVID.
How does COVID affect my brain?
We use our brains every day to get things done, especially with things such as solving problems, making decisions, planning, and completing tasks we have started.
These functions might be affected after having COVID, and you might:
- Find it difficult to get started on or finish tasks
- Get distracted and forget what you were meant to be doing
Your memory might be affected, and you might find it difficult to:
- Keep information in your head
- Make choices
- Remember things such as taking your medication
Your attention and focus might be affected, and you might:
- Get distracted easily
- Lose things
- Find it difficult to hold or follow a conversation
- Find it difficult to do two things at the same time
Why does COVID affect memory and thinking?
Fatigue means feeling very tired and it is common after all types of viruses such as the flu or cold.
Fatigue can affect your ability to focus. You might feel that you do not have enough energy to pay attention to things even if you want to. Find out more about Fatigue.
When you go back to work, you might find it difficult and tiring to focus on tasks.
It is important to make sure you get enough sleep to help you focus and remember things. Find out more about Sleep.
Fear and Anxiety
Feeling anxious can make you feel more worried and affect how we think and focus. Find out more about Fear and Anxiety.
A low mood can affect memory and thinking because it makes it difficult for people to focus and remember things. Find out more about Mood.
Effects of a severe illness due to a COVID infection
The immune system response to a COVID infection can cause inflammation in organs including the nervous system that may cause long lasting symptoms but people do improve gradually.
A small number of people will get a problem in their brain or encephalitis from COVID.
A healthcare professional would have run tests and told you if your brain function was altered.
People can experience different problems from an affected brain such as:
- Attention and focus
- Ability to solve problems
- Making decisions
- Planning and organising
Acute-respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
The word respiratory is all about breathing.
Some people with COVID develop a serious breathing problem called ARDS which happens if your lungs get very swollen. People who get ARDS usually stay in hospital and need intensive care.
They might need to be supported by a mechanical ventilator which is a machine that helps people to breathe.
ARDS can reduce the amount of oxygen that the brain receives. Our brains get damaged if they do not get oxygen and this can cause problems with memory and thinking.
A few people who get COVID may have a stroke. Your healthcare team would tell you if you had a stroke after having COVID. A stroke can cause problems with your:
- Physical health
COVID can cause insomnia when you contract the virus and can sometimes last until a couple of weeks later. Insomnia is when you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. This lack of sleep can affect your memory and concentration and lead to lower alertness and concentration. Find out more about how to improve your sleep.
How can I manage my memory or thinking difficulties?
Problems with memory and thinking are common after COVID. You could ask people around you such as family or friends if they have noticed changes or problems with your memory and thinking.
Getting the people around you involved might help in different ways:
It might help you accept that there is a problem
You and the people around you can talk honestly about the problem
You can ask people around you for support such as reminding you to do tasks
People around you can support you to manage your daily activities
Managing problems focusing
If you are finding it hard to focus, you should do your best to remove distractions. If you are trying to do something that needs a lot of focus you should:
- Find a quiet place
- Ask others around you not to disturb you
- Plan regular breaks
- Reward yourself for completing tasks
Don’t give yourself too many things to complete at any given time. Try to focus on an activity for 20 minutes at a time and then have a short break.
Managing memory problems
Tools and technology can really help us remember things to do and things we have done. Here are some examples:
- Use a calendar app on your phone to remind you to do things
- Use a paper calendar and check it at regular times of the day
- Make notes on your phone
- Use your camera to take photos to help remind you
- Carry a notepad and pen with you
- Set alarms, use Alexa or Google as your reminders
You can do brain exercises to help improve your memory and focus. Try:
- Testing your recall – make a list (things to do, grocery items), memorise it and try to recall as many items as you can
- Ask someone to say a list of 5 numbers to you – try to repeat them in a forward and/or backword order
- Doing maths in your head – pick a starting number such as 100, then either add or subtract another number from it such as 7 and continue
- Pick a letter from the alphabet such as ‘C’ – try to name as many words as you can in one minute beginning with that letter
- Simple crosswords or a sudoku puzzle
How can I managing my daily activities?
- Setting up a regular plan that works well for you will make tasks less stressful
- Think through all the things you want to do regularly and put them into a plan
- Practice your plan until it becomes a habit
- Make a clear plan before starting any new problems or tasks
- Break down tasks into all the steps you need to take
- Keep checking your plan to make sure you are following it correctly
- Keep checking your plan to see if you need to make any changes
Stop and ask yourself these questions:
- What did I set out to do?
- How am I getting on?
- Do I need to change my plan?
- Do I need to take a break?
What if I am still having problems?
Healthcare professionals can help you:
- You can talk with your GP to work out what support is available
- Your GP can make a referral to another healthcare professional to help you with your problems
- If you attend an outpatient COVID clinic, talk to healthcare professionals at the hospital about your memory or focus problems