MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — A new screening tool from the Brain Health Initiative is part of a larger awareness campaign meant to bring attention to the mental and neurological impacts COVID-19 survivors can experience. 

What You Need To Know

  • BHI developed a screening tool to catch COVID brain impacts early

  • The survey will also be used as a research tool

  • Symptoms may go unrecognized and can include headache, muscle aches and confusion

  • BHI also developed webinars to increase awareness and education among the public

Dr. Stephanie Peabody, a neuropsychologist and BHI's founder and executive director, said the effort started after her own bout with the virus.

"I immediately recognized that there were neurologic symptoms associated with the virus once I began to recover," she said. "We then, as a team, began to track the symptoms. In China, the data that was coming out related to the first initial set of patients, where there was actually data recorded about their symptoms.

"Then, we followed those trends westward and really began to create an awareness campaign related to the neurologic and mental health symptoms as an opportunity to help the general public become familiar that neurologic symptoms often were unrecognized or under-recognized and associated with COVID."

BHI developed a COVID-19 Neurologic and Mental Health Screener to help doctors detect some of these conditions, which can range from anxiety and depression to confusion, delirium and even seizures and strokes. The survey asks whether patients have experienced a list of symptoms, some of which might not seem like they hint at brain issues, including headaches, muscle pain, and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.

"Not only did we want to raise awareness with the general public, but also with health care officials. They were in the thick of just treating patients, and it was very difficult, I would say, for health care officials themselves to be able to track these patterns," said Dr. Shelley Carson, a BHI founding director and psychologist.

Carson, an associate of Harvard University's psychology department, also teaches a course with Peabody on the science and application of brain health performance. 

The hope is that raising awareness and catching some of these conditions early can improve outcomes. Carson and Peabody also developed a series of educational webinars aimed at raising awareness among the general public.

"We really are hoping to work throughout the community across sectors, houses of worship, schools," said Peabody. "We've worked extensively with both Sarasota and Manatee County school districts to help spread the word."

BHI has also worked with the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County.

"Even though we did originally create the webinars for health, mental health professionals, they're available to the public, and I think the public will find a lot of use in them as well," said Carson.

According to BHI, estimates suggest about half of people who get COVID-19 experience neurologic symptoms. It's unclear whether these impacts are the result of the virus itself, the inflammation it causes or reduced oxygen levels.

There are also no definite answers about long term impacts.

"We don't really know what the implications are now. I think of things like the chickenpox and the fact that shingles can be the result of chickenpox. That may not show up for many, many decades afterward," said Carson. "So, this is a virus that can hide inside the cells and remain dormant for awhile, and we don't really know what the implications are going to be in future decades. But we know that we have to be prepared for it."

Peabody said the screener can help with that. It's also a research tool, and BHI will track responses to monitor patterns and learn more about COVID's impacts on the brain through time.