Research shows COVID damages human memory

Do you have the impression that your memory has deteriorated during the pandemic? A British memory researcher has now investigated this phenomenon.

Research shows COVID damages human memory
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Whether you simply miss a word, leave the shopping list at home or forget a video call: In times of lockdowns, more and more people report forgetting things. Catherine Loveday, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Westminster, turned her attention to this phenomenon. In her study, she used the Everyday Memory Questionnaire, which asks participants to subjectively rate various aspects of their memory. It includes questions like these:

  • Have you forgotten to tell someone something important?
  • Have you started to read something, only to find that you have already read it?

For this study of memory performance in times of pandemic, subjects were able to indicate for each item whether their memory had improved, stayed the same or worsened during the pandemic. And the data seems to confirm everyone's general feeling.

When days become an indistinct haze...

While a lucky few felt that their memory had even improved over the past year, 80% of participants said that at least one aspect of their memory had deteriorated, a much higher percentage than we would normally expect.

The most common limitation was forgetting a specific event or incident. This was reported by 55% of respondents. This suggests that the pandemic is affecting our perception of time, which is hardly surprising. Some memories are associated with a so-called time stamp. If a memory is unique, vivid and personally touching, it becomes a story that you tell to your acquaintances. This allows you to accurately place that memory in the timeline of your lives.

Social life on the back burner

The reason being? The main factor is isolation. As is well-known, a lack of social contact has a negative effect on the brain. Indulging in stories and gossip helps us to consolidate memories of what has happened in our lives - to create so-called episodic memories. When we can no longer socialise as much, it's not surprising that memories don't feel as tangible as usual. In Alzheimer's patients, the extent of this loneliness can even predict the course of the disease.

But there is more to it than a mere lack of sociability. Many people now say they feel mean world syndrome (feeling like the world is going down the drain). Even if you know how lucky you actually are and how much worse off others are, the feeling that the world has become a more uncertain place is hard to shake off. Various studies worldwide indicate that the rate of depression has increased since the outbreak of the pandemic. It is known that both depression and anxiety have an impact on memory.