DETROIT – Doctors are starting to learn more about how the coronavirus (COVID-19) can affect the brain, and they report some patients are suffering from confusion, or even delirium.
In some cases, the neurological symptoms were the first signs of their infection, doctors said.
“Some are having this, what we call ‘hyperactive delirium,' where you can get very agitated and start to have these paranoid delusions,” said Dr. Pravin George, of the Cleveland Clinic. “Some of them are having this thing called ‘hypoactive,' where they have these kind of internalized visions and then they start to have this very bad confusion.”
George said he’s noticed an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients experiencing delirium. He said intensive care unit delirium isn’t uncommon, especially in older patients and people with medical problems.
Research suggests COVID-19 delirium is trending younger, though, with some patients arriving at the hospital complaining of hallucinations, experts said.
Sedating medications given in the ICU to relax patients might contribute to delirium because they can have long-lasting effects on receptors in the brain.
Early studies suggest some COVID-19 delirium might also be linked to prolonged periods of low oxygen.
“The brain is not getting enough oxygen in some of these patients just because of the severe respiratory issues and, for an extended amount of that, that can cause some of the individual brain cells to die, and over time, that death of some of these brain cells could be permanent and that could cause delirium in itself,” George said.
Doctors are just starting to learn about the long-term consequences of COVID-19, and it’s important to study people as they recover, George said.
Some survivors have also reported clouded thinking and trouble focusing, even weeks after leaving the hospital.