Potential for Cognitive Communication Impairment in COVID-19 Survivors: A Call to Action for Speech-Language Pathologists

Am J Speech Lang Pathol. 2020 Nov 12;29(4):1821-1832. doi: 10.1044/2020_AJSLP-20-00147. Epub 2020 Sep 18.


Purpose Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 is the virus resulting in COVID-19 infections in nearly 4.3 million Americans with COVID-19 in the United States as of July 29, 2020, with nearly 150,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of survivors (https://www.coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html). This tutorial reviews (a) what has been reported about neurological insults in cases of COVID-19 infection, (b) what is known from similar conditions in other disorders, and (c) how that combined information can inform clinical decision making. Method PubMed and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched for COVID-19 or other coronavirus infections, cognitive impairment observed following critical care, and disorders for which intermittent or chronic hypoxia is characteristic. These were combined with searches relating to cognition, brain, and communication. All searches were conducted between April 8 and May 23, 2020. Meta-analyses and randomized clinical trials addressing other critical illnesses were also included to extend findings to potential cognitive communication outcomes following COVID-19. Results COVID-19 infection results in a combination of (a) respiratory infection with mechanical ventilation secondary to inadequate oxygenation, (b) inflammatory system reactivity, and (c) increased blood clotting factors. These affect central nervous system function incurring long-term cognitive communication impairment in a proportion of survivors. Diagnostic and intervention approaches for such impairments are discussed. Conclusions The existing literature on cognitive sequela of COVID-19 infection is small to date, but much can be learned from similar viral infections and disorders. Although COVID-19 is novel, the speech-language pathology approaches to evaluation and intervention of other populations of critical care patients are applicable. However, speech-language pathologists have not routinely been involved in these patients' acute care. As such, this is a call to action to speech-language pathologists to address the unprecedented numbers of patients who will need their services early in the disease process and throughout recovery.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / rehabilitation
  • Communication Disorders / etiology*
  • Communication Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Coronavirus Infections / complications*
  • Delirium / etiology
  • Delirium / rehabilitation
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / etiology
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications*
  • Professional Role
  • Respiration, Artificial / adverse effects
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Speech-Language Pathology*
  • Thrombophilia / etiology