A recently published article in JAMA reviewed adults’ mobility over 50 years after they were diagnosed with COVID. The results are concerning, demonstrating that even mild COVID cases can result in mobility issues. Dr. Suneet Singh, medical director for CareHive, discussed the study with Healthline news including how digital health can improve access to care for COVID long haulers.
What kind of mobility issues are people having and do they seem to lessen over time?
Though uncommon, some adults experience prolonged COVID effects impacting their mobility. It is not specific to any one aspect of mobility, but rather any of the constituent parts that make up the entire movement spectrum. This includes problems with movement biomechanics as well as problems that affect neurological function. Structurally, COVID mobility issues can affect muscles, joints, and nerves. Functionally, those impacted experience difficulty with transferring weight, ambulation, and balance. In severe cases, without medical attention, this leads to fatigue, deconditioning, and muscle atrophy. In less severe cases, people can recover on their own – but with a longer recovery period if not seeking the help of a trained specialist.
Could it be due to people over age 50 not being as active?
Every individual is unique in their daily activity level and in adherence to an exercise regimen. One’s individual cardiovascular profile contributes to overall function, but the driving factor of any decreased mobility itself is the consequence of the disease.
How many are impacted by long-term COVID symptoms?
COVID long-term issues or “long haulers” are officially known as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection or PASC, for short. In July 2021, this disease was recognized as a cause of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The exact number of people who become affected with PASC is unknown, but researchers estimate its prevalence as somewhere between 10-50% of those afflicted with COVID. COVID long-haulers can start to experience long-term effects immediately following infection, though some will become symptomatic as far as 4-8 weeks thereafter. Not all with PASC will suffer mobility issues. Other ailments may include fatigue, problems breathing, racing-heart sensation, headaches, mood changes, and problems concentrating (also called brain fog). The CDC provides more detail of the various symptoms here.
Can we expect the long-term effects to change as we see more variants?
As the disease is still relatively new and we are in the early stages of appreciating factors that go into both development and recovery, it is difficult to predict its evolution as more variants arise. With this in mind, it already is known that prolonged COVID effects can manifest in numerous ways that affect a person’s overall general health and functioning. This includes physical, neurological, psychological, and behavioral effects. It is likely, though, that with continued immunity to COVID variants, the incidence of the disease overall will decrease. With this decline, the development of any post-acute phenomenon should decrease as well.
Is there anything people can do, other than simply not get COVID?
It is an unfortunate reality that some people will develop long-term symptoms due to COVID. Related to mobility, if you feel like you are developing any problems that impact movement, balance, energy level, or muscle function, it is imperative to seek care as soon as possible. Early intervention helps to reduce the effects of muscle wasting that ensues following mobility impairment. Access to specialists is easier than ever before with the rise of telemedicine. Often a rehabilitation plan can include the patient remaining at home while still experiencing guidance and monitoring by their multidisciplinary team in a virtual setting.
At CareHive, we believe improving access to care leads to better engagement, and more engagement leads to better outcomes. CareHive offers asynchronous touchpoints (such as messenger and email) along with phone and virtual visits to meet patients where they are, thereby generating more patient data and more frequent patient connections. This approach helps clinicians better address PASC, whether the symptoms are related to mobility or fatigue, as we continue to learn more about this condition.
Read more about COVID long haulers and digital health here. CareHive is a healthcare technology and clinical services provider partnering with healthcare systems, providers, and payers to offer connected care and clinical navigation for patients. Learn more here.