Cognitive Dysfunction, Psychiatric Distress, and Functional Decline After COVID-19

J Acad Consult Liaison Psychiatry. 2022 Mar-Apr;63(2):133-143. doi: 10.1016/j.jaclp.2021.10.006. Epub 2021 Nov 15.


Background: There is a limited understanding of the cognitive and psychiatric sequelae of COVID-19 during the post-acute phase, particularly among racially and ethnically diverse patients.

Objective: We sought to prospectively characterize cognition, mental health symptoms, and functioning approximately four months after an initial diagnosis of COVID-19 in a racially and ethnically diverse group of patients.

Methods: Approximately four months after COVID-19 diagnosis, patients in the Johns Hopkins Post-Acute COVID-19 Team Pulmonary Clinic underwent a clinical telephone-based assessment of cognition, depression, anxiety, trauma, and function.

Results: Most Johns Hopkins Post-Acute COVID-19 Team patients assessed were women (59%) and members of racial/ethnic minority groups (65%). Of 82 patients, 67% demonstrated ≥1 abnormally low cognitive score. Patients requiring intensive care unit (ICU) stays displayed greater breadth and severity of impairment than those requiring less intensive treatment. Processing speed (35%), verbal fluency (26%-32%), learning (27%), and memory (27%) were most commonly impaired. Among all patients, 35% had moderate symptoms of depression (23%), anxiety (15%), or functional decline (15%); 25% of ICU patients reported trauma-related distress. Neuropsychiatric symptoms and functional decline did not differ by post-ICU versus non-ICU status and were unrelated to global cognitive composite scores.

Conclusions: At approximately 4 months after acute illness, cognitive dysfunction, emotional distress, and functional decline were common among a diverse clinical sample of COVID-19 survivors varying in acute illness severity. Patients requiring ICU stays demonstrated greater breadth and severity of cognitive impairment than those requiring less intensive treatment. Findings help extend our understanding of the nature, severity, and potential duration of neuropsychiatric morbidity after COVID-19 and point to the need for longitudinal assessment of cognitive and mental health outcomes among COVID-19 survivors of different demographic backgrounds and illness characteristics.

Keywords: COVID-19; anxiety; cognitive impairment; critical illness; depression; functional decline.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 Testing
  • COVID-19*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / epidemiology
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Minority Groups
  • SARS-CoV-2