The COVID-19 pandemic changed each of our lives from the way that we work, interact with others, make purchases, and receive medical care. In addition to COVID-19, many people who survive the illness continue to suffer from Long COVID, a complication that can persist for months or years after infection.
People living with disabilities may see unique symptoms of Long COVID and may require specialized treatment options to manage this condition.
What Is Long COVID?
Long COVID is a cluster of disorders that develop as a complication of a COVID-19 infection. The effects of Long COVID are so serious that it is considered somewhat of a second pandemic. There is no standard treatment or symptoms for Long COVID, but medical professionals are working to find the best treatment approach for those suffering from this illness.
Signs of Long COVID
According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), individuals who develop Long COVID may exhibit numerous mental health symptoms. For these so-called COVID long haulers, these can include:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Sleep disorders
- Anxiety, depression, and other psychological conditions
“Long COVID has a range of burdensome physical symptoms, and can take a toll on a person’s mental health,” Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the HHS said in a news release about the report. “This advisory helps to raise awareness, especially among primary care practitioners and clinicians who are often the ones treating patients with Long COVID.”
Who Is Most Vulnerable to Contracting COVID-19?
People living with an intellectual disability are among those who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, COVID-19 was the No. 1 cause of death for people with intellectual disabilities.
This disparity may exist for several reasons. For one, individuals with intellectual disabilities are more likely to live in high-contact housing such as group homes. This population may regularly encounter home care support like nurses and other caretakers. These factors, which increase their exposure to the virus, may then lead to an increased potential for contracting Long COVID.
In addition, people with intellectual disabilities may be more likely to have existing chronic health conditions as well, which can heighten their risk. They also face barriers to equitable health care access.
The HHS advisory points to research that suggests the chances of developing Long COVID and, in turn, associated mental health symptoms, are greater for people with disabilities.
How Should Long COVID Be Treated?
There is no standard way to treat Long COVID. However, medical professionals agree that there should be an “all hands-on deck” or multidisciplinary approach to care.
People with certain disabilities or preexisting mental health diagnoses will likely struggle with the physical issues that come with Long COVID, but special care should be applied to treat the mental health issues that come along with it.
For example, if a Long COVID patient develops persistent neurological impairment, they may lose communication skills and language or speech abilities. In such a case, the patient may need to seek medical advice from a speech therapist who specializes in the evaluation and rehabilitation of the patient’s voice, language, and fluency.
It is critical to remember that Long COVID may cause or exacerbate substance abuse disorders. Being diagnosed and surviving a serious illness like COVID can trigger severe emotional and mental harm. Some patients turn to substances to cope. A substance abuse counselor may be a helpful addition to a patient’s care team.
Disparities in Access to Health Care
Unfortunately, the health care disparities present before the beginning of the pandemic still exist. People of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, certain racial groups, genders, and sexualities may face health care discrimination. It is important for patients and their caregivers to be forthcoming to medical providers to receive the best care available.
Is Long COVID Considered a Disability?
The federal government follows a strict definition regarding what constitutes a disability. For some people who are suffering from Long COVID, it’s possible their condition may qualify as a physical or mental disability. Visit the HHS website for more information.
For further guidance on disability benefits, connect with a qualified special needs planning attorney in your area.