December 28, 2020
Only time will tell what the true impact and repercussions of covid-19 will be on our social and economic global systems along with the effects on an individuals’ emotional, mental, and physical health. At the time of this writing, we’re almost 10 months into a global pandemic with unanswered questions, plenty of theories, and developing information on the lingering effects of the covid-19 virus.
Termed as ‘covid-19 brain fog’, more and more people who had the virus (from mild to hospitalized) are living with troubling cognitive symptoms. Symptoms, such as memory loss, confusion, and difficulty focusing are severe enough to impair work and livelihood. Originally ignored by many medical professionals, more, and more data is being collected and analyzed in order to understand and assist those affected. With the numbers (of those contracting the virus) on the rise, it’s vital that Pilates instructors know how to assist their clients who’ve had covid-19 and may experience brain fog and other ailments. How Common is the Covid-19 Brain Fog?
Admittedly more research is needed, however, so far the various reports stemming from China, France, Italy, and Britain are showing similarities with approximately 1/3 (of those contracted with the virus) having acute neurological symptoms. It’s not limited to the elderly, in fact, many are in their 30’s.
An interesting observation is that most women within the average age of 44, formally fit, and deemed healthy are suffering months on end and have been classified into a group known as ‘long haulers’. Long haulers show similarities to chronic fatigue syndrome, with disorders that disrupt the autonomic nervous system, and the worst of it lasting anywhere from 2-7 months. The common grievance is extreme fatigue and inability to focus, however, symptoms can be unpredictable and range from delirium to digestive issues, and even hair loss.
So far, experts cannot pinpoint the exact cause of these side effects, who it affects most, and how to treat it. A common theory suggests that inflammation in the blood vessels leads to the brain (amongst many other organs) due to the body’s immune response. So the immune response doesn’t shut down the virus. It should be noted that MRI testing results do not show damage in brain areas.
What are the Symptoms?
Lingering symptoms of covid-19 include poor sleep, anxiety, extreme fatigue, difficulty getting out of bed, memory loss, forgetting words, names, and simple conversational skills, and difficulty concentrating. Neurological symptoms, such as seizures or finger tremors can accompany brain fog.
The effects of the covid-19 virus are being compared to the effects of other autoimmune diseases such as Lymes disease and lupus along with neurological disorders fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Slow recovery, along with mental and physical fatigue is common after an illness or virus. Small studies show that these symptoms are similar to the after-effects of the SARS virus. Scientists are baffled because many people suffering from these issues had no previous medical conditions and/or had a very mild case of covid-19.
What Triggers Brain Fog?
In general, brain fog is not classified as a medical condition and can be the result of stressors in an individuals’ life or one of many signs of a health condition requiring a doctor’s care. Brain fog can be the result of stress, anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, hormonal changes, medications, and lack of nutrients (to name a few). The onset of a global pandemic and all of its intricacies and consequences can certainly prompt increased stress, anxiety, depression, and lack of sleep!
Covid-19 brain fog and additional neurological effects seem to be triggered by mild bouts of physical or mental exertion, such as little as walking up a flight of stairs. Recommendations for and during recovery include movement and exercise, seeing a nutritionist for dietary inefficiencies alongside overall healthy eating and sleep. The fairly standard advice for healthy living with the added reminder to be patient and watch limits on overdoing it. Recovery of any illness takes time. The challenge for any Pilates instructor is to slowly re-condition the nervous system without triggering a relapse of brain fog.
How Does Pilates Help in Recovery?
Movement is medicine and Pilates is one of the best modalities for connecting and reconnecting with the breath, increasing circulation and calming, and focusing the mind while exemplifying a whole-body practice. There is no cookie-cutter solution in how to proceed with a covid-19 client in recovery and should be evaluated on a case by case basis. Being present, listening, and encouraging your client is number one, especially since many are in disbelief and/or have not been taken seriously by medical professionals or colleagues. It’s important not to take on the role of therapist, but to do your job and teach them Pilates, (modified or not) with the goal of functioning with ease and overall well-being.
A client that has covid-19 brain fog will not be at the same performance level as they were pre-covid. Rather than ‘muscling up’, focus on reconnecting balance and relaxation, while slowly challenging them to a higher heart rate and maintaining a moderate intensity. When appropriate, casually adding in a few cognitive tasks whilst moving can be beneficial. This class by Erika Quest involves balance exercises with constant motion. Simultaneously she’ll tell a story and ask her students a question fostering their memory and concentration. To the right of this article, you’ll find related videos to help explore and inspire ideas when working with clients experiencing covid-19 brain fog. Reminding your clients to have patience and empathy for themselves while striving for a consistent practice to rebuild is key. Stay safe and keep doing the important work you do!