The negative impact of COVID-19 on working memory revealed using a rapid online quiz

Heidi A Baseler, Murat Aksoy, Abayomi Salawu, Angela Green, Aziz UR Asghar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) affects the respiratory system, it can also have neurological consequences leading to cognitive deficits such as memory problems. The aim of our study was to assess the impact of COVID-19 on working memory function. We developed and implemented an online anonymous survey with a working memory quiz incorporating aspects of gamification to engage participants. 5428 participants successfully completed the survey and memory quiz between 8 th December 2020 and 5 th July 2021 (68.6COVID-19 and 31.419). Most participants (93.3 completed the survey and memory quiz relatively rapidly (mean time of 8.84 minutes). Categorical regression was used to assess the contribution of COVID status, age, time post-COVID (number of months elapsed since having had COVID), symptoms, ongoing symptoms and gender, followed by non-parametric statistics. A principal component analysis explored the relationship between subjective ratings and objective memory scores. The objective memory scores were significantly correlated with participants’ own assessment of their cognitive function. The factors significantly affecting memory scores were COVID status, age, time post-COVID and ongoing symptoms. Our main finding was a significant reduction in memory scores in all COVID groups (self-reported, positive-tested and hospitalised) compared to the non-COVID group. Memory scores for all COVID groups combined were significantly reduced compared to the non-COVID group in every age category 25 years and over, but not for the youngest age category (18-24 years old). We found that memory scores gradually increased over a period of 17 months post-COVID-19. However, those with ongoing COVID-19 symptoms continued to show a reduction in memory scores. Our findings demonstrate that COVID-19 negatively impacts working memory function, but only in adults aged 25 years and over. Moreover, our results suggest that working memory deficits with COVID-19 can recover over time, although impairments may persist in those with ongoing symptoms.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.Funding StatementThe authors received no specific funding for this work.Author DeclarationsI confirm all relevant ethical guidelines have been followed, and any necessary IRB and/or ethics committee approvals have been obtained.Not ApplicableThe details of the IRB/oversight body that provided approval or exemption for the research described are given below:Local ethical approval was given by the Hull York Medical School Ethics Committee (Reference 20 62).I confirm that all necessary patient/participant consent has been obtained and the appropriate institutional forms have been archived, and that any patient/participant/sample identifiers included were not known to anyone (e.g., hospital staff, patients or participants themselves) outside the research group so cannot be used to identify individuals.Not ApplicableI understand that all clinical trials and any other prospective interventional studies must be registered with an ICMJE-approved registry, such as I confirm that any such study reported in the manuscript has been registered and the trial registration ID is provided (note: if posting a prospective study registered retrospectively, please provide a statement in the trial ID field explaining why the study was not registered in advance).Not Applicable I have followed all appropriate research reporting guidelines and uploaded the relevant EQUATOR Network research reporting checklist(s) and other pertinent material as supplementary files, if applicable.Not ApplicableThe data for the study will be made available in the Supporting Information after manuscript acceptance.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0269353
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2022

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© 2022 Baseler et al.

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