Leslie Ann Coles knew “almost immediately” something was wrong after her COVID-19 infection in January 2021.
The filmmaker from Woodbridge, Ont., had never had writer’s block in her life — but she couldn’t find the words to make revisions to a screenplay she’d been working on.
“It was really, really frightening,” Coles said.
Her emotional state changed too.
“I’ve never in my life suffered from depression,” Coles said. “My friends refer to me as the eternal optimist.”
But her usual passion for life and work had waned, leaving her feeling “apathetic, for lack of a better word,” she said.
Researchers have been trying to understand what causes the many symptoms of long COVID, including neurological issues suffered by an estimated hundreds of thousands of Canadians like Coles.
Now, a team led by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has found physiological evidence of brain inflammation in people with cognitive and depressive symptoms months after their COVID-19 infections.
Autopsies of people who died in the midst of severe COVID-19 infection have previously shown they had brain inflammation, said Dr. Jeffrey Meyer, head of the neuroimaging program in mood and anxiety at CAMH and senior author of the study published Thursday in JAMA Psychiatry.
The current study shows brain inflammation inpeople who have recovered from acute COVID-19 but go on to have lasting neurological problems — even though their initial infection wasn’t severe, he said.
“These are people who’ve got long COVID and have actually not been hospitalized. They have mild to moderate severity acute COVID, but then have considerable symptoms thereafter,” Meyer said.
“Our study shows that there’s inflammation months to over a year later in people who’ve got long COVID.”
The researchers did positron emission tomography (PET) scans on the brains of 20 participantswho had started suffering from depression within three months of testing positive for COVID-19.
Most of them had additional cognitive issues associated with long COVID, including problems with memory and concentration, also known as “brain fog.”
The researchers compared those scans to 20 brain scans from “healthy” people that had been done prior to the pandemic.
They found that people who had long COVID had higher levels of translocator protein, or TPSO, in their brains. TSPO appears on glial cells, which increase with inflammation.
The most pronounced increase in inflammation was in two areas of the brain — the ventral striatum and dorsal putamen, the study said.
Those are parts of the brain associated with the ability to experience enjoyment, energy and motivation levels, cognitive processing and speed of movement.
“We know that when there’s injury to these brain regions you get some of the symptoms that we’re seeing in the people with long COVID,” Meyer said.
Long COVID sufferers have been eagerly awaiting these findings “for validation that brain fog is real and caused by functional changes from COVID-19,” said Susie Goulding, founder of the COVID Long-Haulers Canada online support group, which helped recruit study participants.
“This concrete evidence will hopefully bring understanding and guidance” to family doctors who encounter patients describing neurological symptoms after COVID infection, Goulding said in a text message to The Canadian Press.
Dr. Angela Cheung, co-lead of a national long COVID research network and senior physician-scientist at the University Health Network in Toronto, said the study confirms what long COVID researchers have suspected for some time.
“We have always thought that inflammation plays a part,” said Cheung, who was not involved in the CAMH study.
“It’s been difficult to measure inflammation in patients.” she said. “This study shows that in people with persistent depressive and cognitive issues, that there is neural inflammation in the brain.”
But Dr. Lakshmi Yatham, a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia who researches mental health issues related to COVID-19, said that although the study is valuable, there are important limitations to consider.
“It’s a good first attempt to look at the inflammation. But you cannot at this stage attribute that the inflammation is what’s responsible for depressive symptoms,” Yatham said.
One limitation, he said, is that some of the participants had previous experiences with depression.
However, Meyer said those people made up fewer than half of the participants, and any past depressive symptoms had resolved before they got COVID-19.
Yatham said further study is needed using a control group of people who have recovered from COVID-19 and didn’t have long COVID to compare the levels of brain inflammation. That wasn’t possible in the CAMH study because the brain scans of the control group had been done prior to the pandemic.
One of the next steps for the CAMH team is to “test out whether some kinds of anti-inflammatory or inflammatory-altering medications might be helpful for long COVID,” said Meyer.
Cheung said other researchers are also planning anti-inflammatory medication studies.
Leslie Ann Coles has learned tactics to work around memory problems that persist to this day, including constantly writing things down and taking photos on her phone.
For her, like so many other long COVID sufferers, the next steps in research can’t come soon enough.
“I hope they find ways in which this study helps people with long COVID recover,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2023.
Canadian Press health coverage receives support through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. CP is solely responsible for this content.
The Key Role of Trustworthy Babysitters in Balancing Work and Family Life
Are you a busy parent in constant pursuit of the elusive work-life balance? We know firsthand how overwhelming and challenging it can be to juggle professional commitments while still having quality time with your children.
That’s why we’re here to discuss an essential ingredient that unlocks the secret to harmony: trustworthy babysitters.
What Characteristics Parents Should Look for When Choosing a Babysitter?
Parents should look for a few key characteristics when choosing a babysitter. A good babysitter should be patient, responsible, and reliable. They should also be comfortable with children and have prior experience caring for them.
Besides, the babysitter must be able to communicate effectively and follow directions well. The babysitter should be someone the parents can trust to care for their children in their absence.
Strategies for Parents to Establish Reasonable Anticipations
As a parent, finding babysitters you can trust to care for your children is vital. However, it is also important to establish reasonable expectations for your babysitters.
Some tips for establishing reasonable expectations for babysitters include:
- Set clear expectations: Sit down with your babysitter to discuss bedtime routines, dietary preferences, and any necessary medications.
- Allow flexibility: While clarity is vital, also provide room for your babysitter to use their judgment and feel comfortable in their role.
- Trust their expertise: Once expectations are set, trust your babysitter’s judgment as a professional caregiver to avoid undermining their authority and creating discomfort in their role.
Determining a Fair Payment Plan
Determine your babysitting budget, factoring in your income and family size, while researching local rates. Account for the babysitter’s experience and qualifications, giving preference to those recommended by trusted sources.
Engage in open negotiations with your chosen babysitter. This aims to find a mutually agreeable arrangement that accommodates both your budget and their needs.
Tips on Finding Trustworthy and Compassionate Caregivers
When seeking a caregiver for your child, to ensure you find the right fit:
- Seek recommendations from trusted sources such as friends, family, and neighbours who may have suggestions for caregivers in your area.
- Conduct online research to review feedback and check references to gauge candidates’ qualifications and experience.
- Request references and contact details from the caregivers’ previous employers or families they have worked with.
- Trust your instincts and ensure you feel at ease with the caregiver, ensuring they are someone you can entrust with your child’s well-being.
Being able to trust your babysitter means you can have peace of mind knowing your child is safe and cared for.
Spending some time researching online reviews or asking friends and family for recommendations will help you find the perfect fit so you can feel more at ease while juggling work commitments in today’s hectic world.
Facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak at Bethammi Nursing Home
THUNDER BAY — St. Joseph’s Care Group and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit have declared a facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak at Bethammi Nursing Home, part of the St. Joseph’s Heritage complex on Carrie Street near Red River Road.
The respiratory outbreak at the 112-bed facility was declared effective Sept. 15 but only announced publicly on Monday.
No details were provided with regard to the number of people affected to date.
Restrictions are now in place for admissions, transfers, discharges, social activities and visitation until further notice.
Alberta COVID hospitalizations up 73% since July: health minister
Three weeks after the start of the school year, Alberta’s health minister provided an update on the spread of airborne viruses in the province.
Adriana LaGrange also said more information about flu and next-generation COVID-19 vaccines will soon be released.
“Now that we will be spending more time indoors, we need to make doubly sure we are following proper hygiene protocols like handwashing and staying home when sick,” LaGrange said. “It also means respecting those who choose to wear a mask.”
Global News previously reported that influenza vaccines will be available on Oct. 16 with the new Moderna vaccine formulated to target the XBB.1.5 variant likely to be available at around the same time. On Sept. 12, Health Canada approved the use of the Moderna vaccine.
“More information on immunizations against respiratory viruses including influenza and COVID-19 will be available shortly,” the health minister said.
LaGrange said there have been 28 cases of influenza and five lab-confirmed cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) since Aug. 28.
“This is consistent activity for this time of the year,” the health minister said in a statement.
The end of August or the beginning of September has typically marked the beginning of flu season for provincial health authorities.
LaGrange also provided an update on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the province.
From Aug. 28 to Sept. 8, there were a total 92 new hospitalizations and three ICU admissions, bringing the total to 417 in hospital and seven in ICU, a 73 per cent increase of COVID hospitalizations from the last reported info.
On July 24 – the last update to the province’s COVID data dashboard – there were only 242 in hospital.
“Sadly, five Albertans died during that period due to COVID-19,” LaGrange said.
LaGrange said the reporting dashboard is being refreshed to include RSV, influenza and COVID-19 data, work that was originally expected to be completed on Aug. 30. The latest data on the province’s influenza statistics dashboard is dated July 22.
“This work is currently underway and will be available in the coming weeks,” LaGrange said.
She said data for the dates between July 24 and Aug. 27 will be available when the new dashboard goes online.
Amid more hospitals continent-wide reinstating masking requirements in the face of increased hospitalizations, the health minister made no mention of any such moves for Alberta hospitals. Acute care COVID-19 outbreaks in Alberta jumped from Sept. 5 to 12, with 146 per cent more healthcare workers and 55 per cent more patients testing positive for COVID.
LaGrange stressed the “collective responsibility” to prevent the spread of airborne viruses like COVID and influenza.
“As a mother and grandmother, I understand the anxiety that comes with sending your children back to school. I want to reassure you that Alberta’s government has the health and well-being of all young Albertans top of mind,” the health minister said.
–with files from Meghan Cobb, Global News
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