Helping COVID-19 “Long Haulers”

Toronto Rehab’s COVID-19 Rehab clinic opened its virtual doors in response to a growing need among people who have recovered from their acute stage of the coronavirus, but are living with lingering symptoms such as headaches, brain fog, body aches, joint pain, fatigue and accelerated heart rate.

It is estimated that up to 10 percent of patients with COVID-19 will require post-acute care. Through the clinic, a team of healthcare professionals are dedicated to getting these patients – called “long haulers” – back to their usual activities of daily living by helping them manage symptoms more effectively.

“I’d rather be back in the acute stage of COVID, than live this way,” says Mike Jones, 44, who never required hospitalization, but has been experiencing fatigue, brain fog, and an accelerated heart rate, since last spring. (UHN News agreed to use a pseudonym to protect his privacy.)

“When you don’t have the energy to do anything – I’m talking about simple tasks like vacuuming or walking around the block – you become increasingly deconditioned. You can cope for a time, but as the months wear on, it becomes more and more concerning.”

The COVID-19 Rehab clinic helps create a seamless pathway from acute to rehabilitative care, and opens a door for others to finally get the physical, cognitive, and emotional support they’ve been missing.

For Mike, a prescribed exercise program made the greatest impact on his recovery. Simple solutions such as breaking housework down into smaller chunks helped avoid fatigue, and mental health exercises, like playing Sudoku, helped combat brain fog.

The COVID-19 Rehab clinic team is hoping to recruit additional clinicians to meet the growing demand, and to develop targeted patient education materials for this population. They would also like to conduct a research study to help inform COVID rehab care, as they have been collecting subjective pre- and post-treatment outcome measures to assess changes in fatigue levels, quality of life, and the overall impact of COVID-19 on the lives of these patients.

“We are learning, along with those we serve, about the long-term consequences of COVID that some people are experiencing,” says Dr. Mark Bayley, Program Medical Director at Toronto Rehab, and a physician in the COVID-19 Rehab clinic.

“We will continue to study both the causes of the difficulty and rehabilitation strategies that can be used to resolve the symptoms.”

If you are experiencing symptoms of long COVID, please contact your primary healthcare provider.

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