Can COVID-19 Affect A Child's Brain?
As a parent, we naturally watch out for sudden, major changes in our children: loss of appetite, moodiness, insomnia, unexpected changes in behavior, sudden weight gain, among other red flags we look out for.
But not all sudden changes are quite so obvious - there's always a lot going on "under the hood" of the human mind. And of course, our ability to recognize "weird behavior" in our kids assumes that we have a clear baseline for what "normal" is for our kids. However, sometimes it can be hard for us to know what "normal" actually means for them!
Would I notice if my child's memory suddenly got worse? If their reaction times got slower? What if their behavior changed just a little bit - if they laughed a little bit less than usual, or they became a little worse about doing their chores or homework on time?
Even if I did notice, would I be able to convince other people in my child's life- teachers, doctors, or even my own partner- that I'm not just imagining it?
This is the uncomfortable new-normal for many parents. And thanks to the coronavirus, there are even more questions for parents about the health of their children: is my child being affected by this new world we are living in? if my child does contract the virus, will they be okay?
In one frightening COVID case, a 15-year-old girl name Nia Haughton was hospitalized with the coronavirus, and, in the words of her doctors, "Nia's voice and behavior appeared to regress to a younger version of herself."
Nia's story shocked us. Reports have said that she has slowly been getting better, but what she went through caused us to take a look at what the data has been saying about COVID-19's effect on children, and what parents can do to protect their kids:
The GOOD news is that the vast majority of COVID cases in children are mild.
But Nia's case has caused many parents to ask questions about the risks their children might be facing as we continue to navigate the age of COVID.
Just how common is this neurological dysfunction? The latest data indicates that one-third of hospitalized coronavirus patients (including adults) suffer from neurological dysfunctions [NCBI]. The most common symptoms are a lost or distorted sense of smell, ongoing dizziness and headaches, "altered mental status," and "neurodefecit." These most commonly come from what's called encephalitis- which means inflammation of the brain.
Now, that's one-third of patients. Most people who get the virus recover without treatment, and that's even more true for children- only about six percent of children who contract the virus are hospitalized [CDC].
That said, even mild cases can have lasting effects. Lingering neurological symptoms occur in many "mild" cases- most of us here at Esteem have friends or relatives who suffered a loss of smell for a month or two after "recovering" from the virus, despite not having been sick enough to need medical treatment.
Did they also suffer from mental deficits, such as a loss of memory and reduced ability to focus, or was it just the loss of smell? No one really knows. Certainly not to the extent of Nia, but milder forms of mental impairment are harder to detect.
Again, the vast majority of cases in children are mild. If your child contracts the virus, the data suggests that your child will probably make a speedy recovery. But afterward, there is a chance they'll have lingering effects, such as slower reflexes, memory deficits, reduced focus, or impairments in impulse control as they recover. The odds are that these symptoms will also be mild- falling into that twilight zone of "things that need to be dealt with, but that are hard to convince other people to take seriously."
How do you convince your child's teacher that your son needs extra, personalized instruction? How do you convince your partner that your child is showing concerning signs, if they aren't noticing those same small things your child is doing?
Worst of all, how can you be certain yourself? How can you find confidence in knowing for sure whether or not your child is experiencing an issue?
The answer is that you need a baseline- a set of benchmarks of your child's mental performance before they had the virus, so that changes in your child's health and behavior become obvious to you- and then you can easily show others to make them understand.
Once you have a 'baseline' of your child's mental and behavioral health, you'll be armed with the information you need to help your child in the future- to make more informed decisions about education, treatment, and parenting.
If they get a severe case of COVID, you'll be able to share their health and development information with teachers, doctors, therapists, co-parents, and anyone else who knows your child, to help them understand what your child goes through, recover faster, and know when they've truly recovered.
If your child gets a mild case- the kind where your child's issues are obvious to you, but not to everyone else- you'll be able to prove your case. You'll have the data you need to get your child extra help at school and special accommodations if they need it. You'll show a psychologist or pediatrician exactly what's happening with your child and what they need help with.
And in the even more likely event that your child is just fine? Then you'll know for sure. You won't have to stay up at night pouring over your child's behavior that day, wondering if there was anything off about it.
With just a few simple steps using the free Esteem app, get peace of mind that comes from knowing you're protecting your child's future while working towards health and happiness.
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