How COVID Can Affect Your Child’s Brain

Available for Interviews: Dr. Pete Loper

Dr. Pete Loper, MD, MSEd, FAAP, is a triple board-certified physician in pediatrics, psychiatry, and child psychiatry. He is also a professor and executive coach and is dedicated to mental health and wellness advocacy.

What Dr. Loper could say on
COVID and the Brain:

    • Per the current data, neuropsychiatric symptoms (brain fog, memory issues, attention issues, cognitive issues, etc.) in children following infection with COVID-19 are rare. However, there was an apparent increase in kids correlating with the spread of Omicron. This is perhaps due to the higher rates of infection with this variant in the pediatric demographic. There is also some data that suggests post-COVID neuropsychiatric symptoms occur with greater frequency in adolescents.

    • The data is sparse as far as some of the most common symptoms, but one large study of 510 children found that problems concentrating, difficulty remembering information, difficulty performing daily activities, deficits in processing information, and deficits in short-term memory are the most common neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with COVID in children. Other more common symptoms may include headaches, insomnia, or loss of motivation.
    • For most children neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with COVID seem to be transient and self-limited, resolving within weeks to months. There is data from a large cohort study in Norway that indicates that preschoolers may take longer to recover (1-5 months) when compared to older children (1-3 months).
    • Post-COVID neuropsychiatric symptoms can have a marked impact on a child’s quality of life, particularly since they can have a direct and overt effect on school performance. In the cases that I have seen, a decline in school performance often has a sequential, secondary impact on the child’s self-esteem as well as their relationships with friends, family, and teachers. This has tremendous potential to compound their post-COVID neuropsychiatric symptoms by placing them at greater risk for depression or anxiety.
    • At this time there is nothing to suggest that post-COVID neuropsychiatric symptoms, when identified and addressed with the appropriate social support, academic accommodations, or mental health support, will create long-term health problems for kids. However, additional time and research are needed to examine the potential for long-term health impacts related to post-COVID neuropsychiatric symptoms.
    • Experts do not yet understand why post-COVID neuropsychiatric symptoms are occurring. Hypotheses include that the COVID-19 virus directly attacks the central nervous system, or that perhaps the body’s immune response to the COVID-19 virus creates systemic inflammation that has a secondary impact on the brain.
    • Advice to parents: There is a significant overlap between post-COVID neuropsychiatric symptoms and other more common neuropsychiatric conditions. The rule of thumb should be that any sustained change in behavior and daily functioning from baseline in a child should warrant further evaluation. The best place to seek an initial evaluation is with their pediatrician.

 

Interview: Dr. Pete Loper

Dr. Pete Loper began his undergraduate studies in English at Kenyon College prior to completing his premedical coursework and Bachelor of Arts at the University of South Carolina (U of SC).  He earned his Doctor of Medicine from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, and his Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.  Following medical school, Dr. Loper completed a residency in pediatrics. He then worked as a pediatrician in a private practice setting while completing a second residency in psychiatry and a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry.  He has also completed the American Psychoanalytic Association’s Psychoanalytic Fellowship Program and the Teleos Leadership Institute’s Coach Development Program.

Dr. Loper has been featured in numerous academic publications and media outlets and it is through these channels that he can dedicate his time to be an advocate for mental health and wellness.

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