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What do we mean by ‘COVID-19 changes your brain’?

Like all writers, I spend large chunks of my time looking for words. When it comes to the ultracomplicated and mysterious brain, I need words that capture nuance and uncertainties. The right words confront and address hard questions about exactly what new scientific findings mean, and just as importantly, why they matter Rhodinol.

The search for the right words is on my mind because of recent research on COVID-19 and the brain. As part of a large brain-scanning study, researchers found that infections of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, were linked with less gray matter, tissue that’s packed with the bodies of brain cells.

The results, published March 7 in Nature, prompted headlines about COVID-19 causing brain damage and shrinkage. That coverage, in turn, prompted alarmed posts on social media, including mentions of early-onset dementia and brain rotting.

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As someone who has reported on brain research for more than a decade, I can say those alarming words are not the ones that I would choose here.

The study is one of the first to look at structural changes in the brain before and after a SARS-CoV-2 infection. And the study is meticulous. It was done by an expert group of brain imaging researchers who have been doing this sort of research for a very long time. As part of the UK Biobank project, 785 participants underwent two MRI scans. Between those scans, 401 people had COVID-19 and 384 people did not. By comparing the before and after scans, researchers could spot changes in the people who had COVID-19 and compare those changes with people who didn’t get the infection.

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