Memory and thinking problems after COVID-19

Most people who have COVID-19 will recover with no long-term effect on their memory and thinking. Some people have mild problems that do not last for long. This is sometimes called 'brain fog'.

Some people may find problems last longer, particularly people who had a severe illness from COVID-19.

Signs of memory and thinking problems

If you have problems with your memory, attention or thinking, you may find it difficult to:

  • remember information and use it to make decisions
  • recall something that has happened
  • remember to do tasks on time, such as taking medicines
  • focus on a task and ignore distractions
  • do 2 things at the same time, such as have a conversation with the radio on
  • solve problems or plan ahead - you may seem disorganised or impulsive when you are not usually
  • complete tasks because you get distracted

If you were in hospital for COVID-19, you may have had tests to check your memory and thinking.

It's common not to have any tests for these problems if you recover from COVID-19 at home. It may help to ask your family or other people around you if they have noticed any changes.

If you had existing memory problems, you may find that the problems get a bit worse. But the changes may be mild and may not last for long.

Causes of memory and thinking problems

You may have problems with your memory and thinking while recovering from COVID-19 because of:

  • fatigue - thinking takes energy so the fatigue after viral infections can affect your ability to concentrate
  • anxiety - fear, worry or stress from the pandemic or your recovery can affect your ability to concentrate
  • low mood - difficult events and experiences can leave you in a low mood and affect your thinking

But you can have memory and thinking problems without these symptoms.

If you were in hospital because of COVID-19, your healthcare team will tell you about other conditions you may have that affect memory and thinking.

Managing memory and thinking problems

During your recovery some days may be more difficult than others. But try to look after your physical health by eating well, limiting alcohol, and doing physical activity.

There are things you can try to reduce distractions, make tasks easier, and improve your focus:

Do

  • stick to a routine - familiar routines help to reduce the demands on your brain

  • get regular sleep - it's important for memory and thinking

  • break activities into smaller tasks - spread out the tasks over the day or week and take regular breaks

  • rest when you need to

  • keep things interesting - alternate interesting tasks with others you find boring and reward yourself for getting them done

  • remind yourself to do things - use a diary, calendar or a calendar app on your smartphone

  • record things you have done - keep a diary, enter notes in your phone or use a voice recorder

  • note important information - use your smartphone or a notebook to keep important information you'll need later

  • find a quiet time and place to do demanding tasks

  • listen to gentle, instrumental music when you need to focus

  • ask for help with tasks when you need it

Talk about problems you are having with your family or other people around you. This may help you find ways of coping together. For example, you can ask family, friends or colleagues to remind you to do a task at a particular time.

You can talk to your employer about what reasonable changes can be made to help you at work.

How to plan, prioritise and pace your activities as you recover

Planning new or complicated activities

For new or complicated activities or situations, make a plan:

  • break down the activity into small steps
  • write down the steps and what you need to complete them
  • complete 1 step at a time
  • check your plan as you go and make changes if you need to

When you are doing complicated activities, take time to stop and think.

Ask yourself:

  • What did I set out to do?
  • How am I getting on?
  • Do I need to change my approach?
  • Do I need to take a break?

Get medical help if you need it

You can get help if memory and thinking problems are affecting your day-to-day life.

Ask your GP about what support is available.

They may refer you to a specialist clinic, an occupational therapist or a psychologist for an assessment.

If you were in hospital, you may have appointments with your healthcare team there. Tell them about any memory or thinking problems you are having.