'It's not a way to live': New study from Exeter team could offer hope for Long Covid sufferers

  • Watch Jacquie Bird's report here.

A new study by researchers at the University of Exeter may offer a glimmer of hope to the estimated two million people in the UK struggling with Long Covid. 

The Brain Training trial is hoped to help those suffering from brain fog - a common symptom of Long Covid. 

Amber Rawlinson has been unable to work since she got the disease in November 2021. 

She rarely goes out, and everyday living is exhausting. 

The 22-year-old feels there is little support, treatment or even hope for her Long Covid symptoms.

“It’s not really a way to live at all.”

She said: “I very rarely have a good day but you never know when that day is going to come. You never know when you’re going to have a day when your symptoms are calm and you’re able to get out and do things.

“It’s always quite a lot of planning ahead, picking and choosing what to do and when. 

“It’s not really a way to live at all.”

Very little is known about why some people are affected by Long Covid. 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has stopped collating figures for the numbers involved - but at the last count, it was thought more than two million people in the UK have it. 

Amber said: “It stops people from working, it stops people from socialising, it affects them mentally - there's a lot to it. 

“We’re four years in now, and we still don’t really have any answers.”

Now the University of Exeter is at the forefront of research into the cause and treatments.

Dr David Strain, the research lead for Long Covid at the university, said: “One thing that’s really important is that many people still have symptoms three years after their infection. 

The hope is the puzzles will reduce the impact of Long Covid on brain function.

“Realistically, if they get through the first 12 months without showing much in the way of recovery, then it is very unlikely this disease is going to get better on its own. 

“That’s why researching this condition is still a significant health service priority.” 

Their latest project, called Beacon, is based on work done with brain training puzzles on older adults who had already shown signs of cognitive decline.

The hope is the puzzles will reduce the impact of Long Covid on brain function.

The study will take six months, with people asked to do the puzzles for around 10 minutes a day. If successful, it could be a cost-effective treatment for one of the most common symptoms of Long Covid.

Professor Anne Corbett, from the university, said: “We know it’s not a silver bullet. It’s not going to be the only treatment but it can be just made freely available to anyone that wants it and I think that is really important. 

“We know there are two million people in the UK with Long Covid, we know that at least 50 per cent of those have experienced some kind of brain fog, that’s a large number of people. We’ve got to make this cost effective.”  

For people like Amber, who has felt out on a limb with her long covid journey, any research is good news. She just hopes it will lead to more understanding and a cure for this little known but terribly debilitating condition.