Does COVID Lower IQ Scores? What New Study Says

woman looking at covid results

Ever since the pandemic began in 2020, research has been finding that infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is associated with harmful effects on cognitive function, memory, and mental health. New research in 2024 has found that the brain impacts from long COVID are so profound that they cause a significant drop in IQ.

This alarming finding doesn’t bode well for the people who are among the more than 100 million cases of COVID-19 reported in the U.S. And it’s even worse for the nearly 25% of COVID-19 survivors who go on to develop long COVID, also known as post-COVID syndrome.

New research in 2024 has found that the brain impacts from long COVID are so profound that they cause a significant drop in IQ. Click To Tweet

Does this mean that having long COVID condemns you to a lower IQ, memory loss, and increased risk of mental health disorders? Not necessarily.

The brain-imaging work with SPECT scans at Amen Clinics shows that you’re not stuck with your post-COVID brain. You can rehabilitate your brain and improve your cognitive function, memory, and mental health.


The 2024 study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine involved cognitive assessments of roughly 113,000 people who had contracted COVID-19. These tests included tasks involving memory, spatial planning, word definitions, and more.

According to the study, individuals with a history of COVID infection showed significant declines in memory and executive functions. Researchers noted these drops in cognitive function whether people had been infected early in the pandemic or later when other variants had appeared.

Perhaps the most surprising finding from this study was a drop in IQ. In people who had recovered from mild cases of COVID, the cognitive deterioration seen amounted to a 3-point decrease in IQ.

People who had developed long COVID experienced a 6-point drop in IQ. Hospitalized individuals who were admitted to the ICU fared even worse, losing 9 points off their IQ. Being reinfected with COVID was associated with losing an extra 2 points in IQ.

An average IQ score ranges between 85 and 115. Having an IQ lower than 70 is associated with mental disability, whereas an IQ over 130 is linked with being intellectually gifted. Losing IQ points could potentially shift some people into the intellectual disability category.


A growing body of research shows that COVID-19 has a wide array of negative impacts on the brain. Some of the most alarming findings to date include:

  • Brain shrinkage: Before-and-after brain-imaging studies have found that infection with COVID-19 is associated with reduced brain volume.
  • Brain fog: Brain fog is the second most common symptom of long COVID (fatigue ranks first), affecting approximately 70% of people with the condition.
  • Excessive activity in emotional brain: At Amen Clinics, before-and-after COVID brain SPECT scans show heightened activity in the limbic system, which is the brain’s emotional center. Too much activity here is linked to an increased risk for low moods and negativity.
  • Mental health disorders: People who have had COVID, regardless of whether it was a mild or serious infection, have a significantly increased risk of developing mental health conditions, such as: clinical depression and anxiety disorders, suicidal ideation, substance use disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), psychosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Accelerated brain aging: According to a 2023 study in PNAS, having a mild to moderate case of COVID-19 has been linked to persistent inflammation and changes in the brain that are the equivalent of adding seven years to the age of your brain. For those hospitalized with severe cases, scientific findings suggest that the brain damage and cognitive decline add an estimated 20 years to the brain’s age.
  • Impaired neurogenesis: A study in the journal Cell found that even mild infections of COVID-19 can trigger brain inflammation and interfere with the ability to generate new brain cells, especially in the hippocampus.
  • Leaky blood brain barrier: A 2024 study in Nature Neuroscience indicates that COVID-19 can cause disruption in the blood brain barrier, causing it to become leaky. The blood brain barrier is a protective membrane that shields the brain from potentially harmful substances. When it becomes leaky, the brain is more vulnerable to invasion by such substances.
  • New-onset dementia: Preliminary findings from a meta-analysis of 11 studies compared close to 1 million individuals over the age of 60 who have had COVID-19 with over 6 million people in the same age group who weren’t infected. The researchers found that being infected with COVID-19 heightened the risk of developing of new-onset dementia. The risk was significantly higher in older adults who had severe infections.


Although COVID’s impacts on the brain and cognition are disturbing, they don’t need to be permanent. Here are strategies to help optimize your brain if you’re struggling with post-COVID symptoms.

  1. Try hyperbaric oxygen therapy. HBOT is a non-invasive treatment uses pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber to accelerate the healing process. A 2022 study published in Nature Medicine found that HBOT boosts cognitive function in individuals struggling with long COVID.
  2. Decrease inflammation. Because inflammation is strongly linked to long COVID symptoms such as brain fog, it’s important to calm it. Take probiotics to support gut health and add prebiotic foods—including unripe bananas, apples, and asparagus—to your diet. Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids with fatty fish such as salmon.
  3. Calm stress. Since it is inflammatory, stress reduction is a critical component in overcoming post-COVID syndrome. Include self-soothing techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or havening in your daily routine.
  4. Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol may make you feel good in the short-term, but it damages the brain in many ways. For example, cocktails, wine, and beer promote inflammation, exacerbate cognitive issues, and worsen depression.
  5. Move your body. If long COVID symptoms are preventing you from engaging in strenuous exercise, it’s still important to move. Even light physical activity, such as stretching, yoga, or tai chi, can enhance moods, improve memory, and support cognitive function.
  6. Take brain-supportive nutraceuticals. The nutritional supplements rhodiola, green tea extract, and ashwagandha support focus and attention. GABA and magnesium promote a sense of calm and relaxation. Omega-3 fatty acids support overall brain function and help calm inflammation.

Long COVID symptoms, such as brain fog, memory loss, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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