BITS ‘N’ PIECES
Have you noticed your brain isn’t working quite as well as it was before coronavirus? If so, you aren’t the only one. The prolonged stress of the pandemic and many lockdowns has had an effect on our cognitive functioning, experts say.
Chronic stress has been found to kill brain cells and even shrink the size of the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain responsible for memory, focus, and learning.
Social isolation and loneliness have had profound impacts across multiple regions of our brains. Changes have been observed in volume in the brain’s temporal, frontal, occipital and subcortical regions, the amygdala, and the hippocampus in people who are socially isolated.
Despite the sweeping cognitive impacts of the past year, the specialists are optimistic about our potential to recover. Our brains are capable of repair. Here are some tips for you to help it along:
Sweat it out. There’s lots of evidence that physical activity improves cognitive functioning. Exercise improves neuroplasticity – the brain’s adaptability to change – which can help our brains bounce back from recent circumstances.
Enjoy the sweet sound of recovery. Listening to music has been shown to lower cortisol levels in the body. In fact, making music has been linked to improved brain resilience later in life.
Free your head. Mood and cognitive function often go hand in hand. Being in the moment through practicing mindfulness and meditation has been linked to improvements on both fronts, easing stress and enhancing automatic cognition processes like memory retrieval.
The 3 rules that underscore the danger of Delta
1. The vaccines are still beating the variants.
The available vaccines slash the odds that infected people will spread the virus onward by at least half and likely more. In the rare cases that the virus breaks through, infections are generally milder, shorter, and lower in viral load.
However, data from the U.K. suggest that the Delta variant is 35 to 60 percent better at spreading than Alpha, which was already 43 to 90 percent more transmissible than the original virus. The World Health Organization have advised that vaccinated people should still wear masks indoors.
2. The variants are pummeling unvaccinated people.
Unvaccinated people are in more danger than ever because of the variants. Even though they’ll gain some protection from the immunity of others, they also tend to cluster socially and geographically, seeding outbreaks even within highly vaccinated communities.
Immunocompromised people may not benefit from the shots. Children under 12 are still ineligible. And the pace of vaccinations in some countries is stalling because of lack of access, uncertainty, and distrust.
3. The longer Principle No. 2 continues, the less likely No. 1 will hold.
Whenever a virus infects a new host, it makes copies of itself, with small genetic differences — mutations — that distinguish the new viruses from their parents. As an epidemic widens, so does the range of mutations, and viruses that carry advantageous ones that allow them to, for example, spread more easily or slip past the immune system to outcompete their standard predecessors. That’s how we got super-transmissible variants like Alpha and Delta. And it’s how we might eventually face variants that can truly infect even vaccinated people.
This is the first pandemic in history in which scientists are sequencing the genes of a new virus, and tracking its evolution, in real time. But many countries lack sequencing facilities, and those that have them can be easily swamped. Delta ripped its way through India, but we only understood it when it started causing infections in the U.K. — a country that had plenty of scientists with sequencers and less to do.
In the meantime, nations should continue investing in other measures that can control Covid-19 but have been inadequately used — improved ventilation, widespread rapid tests, smarter contact tracing, better masks, places in which sick people can isolate, and policies like paid sick leave.