SARS-CoV-2 infection and its oft-associated illness COVID-19 may lead to neuropsychological deficits, either through direct mechanisms (i.e., neurovirulance) or indirect mechanisms, most notably complications caused by the virus (e.g., stroke) or medical procedures (e.g., intubation). The history of past human coronavirus outbreaks resulting in similar health emergencies suggests there will be a substantial prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among COVID-19 survivors. To prepare neuropsychologists for the difficult task of differentiating PTSD-related from neuropathology-related deficits in the oncoming wave of COVID-19 survivors, we integrate research across a spectrum of related areas.
Several areas of literature were reviewed: psychiatric, neurologic, and neuropathological outcomes of SARS and MERS patients; neurological outcomes in COVID-19 survivors; PTSD associated with procedures common to COVID-19 patients; and differentiating neuropsychological deficits due to PTSD from those due to acquired brain injuries in other patient groups.
Heightened risk of PTSD occurred in MERS and SARS survivors. While data concerning COVID-19 is lacking, PTSD is known to occur in patient groups who undergo similar hospital courses, including ICU survivors, patients who are intubated and mechanically ventilated, and those that experience delirium. Research with patients who develop PTSD in the context of mild traumatic brain injury further suggests that PTSD may account for some or all of a patient’s subjective cognitive complaints and neuropsychological test performance. Recommendations are provided for assessing PTSD in the context of COVID-19.