New research has revealed that people who have been infected with COVID-19 are at risk of experiencing “chronic cognitive consequences” for up to nine months, even those who had a less severe infection.

Academics from Oxford University have found that people who experienced mild illness after being infected with the coronavirus are still at risk of experiencing memory problems.

During the study, the team of researchers examined more than 130 adults while they played several games designed to test the brain. Each participant was tested on their short-term and long-term cognitive ability.

Out of the participants, 40% had previously been infected with COVID-19, with only seven of those self-reporting that they had experienced severe illness.

According to the scientists, the cognitive ability was the same amongst those who had severe and mild symptoms of the coronavirus.

They found that most of the participants showed signs of having a good short-term working memory. However, they discovered that most of the volunteers had a much poorer long-term memory and struggled to maintain their attention for long periods of time.

The results of an accuracy game showed that those who have previously been infected with COVID-19 dropped from 75% to 67% in three minutes, whereas the participants who have never been infected with the virus dropped from 78% to 75%.

During a follow up assessment, the researchers found that most of the participants who had been infected with COVID-19 saw their memory fully recover between six and nine months after.

Main author Dr Sijia Zhao said: “’What is surprising is that although our COVID survivors did not feel any more symptomatic at the time of testing, they showed degraded attention and memory. Our findings reveal people can experience some chronic cognitive consequences for months.”

Prior studies have reported that one in 50 people living in the UK have developed Long COVID, meaning they have experienced continuous symptoms of the coronavirus, including fatigue and body pain.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Long COVID cases could sharply rise after the Omicron variant of the virus has significantly increased the number of positive coronavirus cases in the last two months.

The study is now published in the journal Brain Communications.

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