A Biopsychosocial Approach to Persistent Post-COVID-19 Fatigue and Cognitive Complaints: Results of the Prospective Multicenter NeNeSCo Study

NeNeSCo study group

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Objective: To evaluate whether psychological and social factors complement biomedical factors in understanding post-COVID-19 fatigue and cognitive complaints. Additionally, to incorporate objective (neuro-cognitive) and subjective (patient-reported) variables in identifying factors related to post-COVID-19 fatigue and cognitive complaints. Design: Prospective, multicenter cohort study. Setting: Six Dutch hospitals. Participants: 205 initially hospitalized (March-June 2020), confirmed patients with SARS-CoV-2, aged ≥18 years, physically able to visit the hospital, without prior cognitive deficit, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contraindication, or severe neurologic damage post-hospital discharge (N=205). Interventions: Not applicable. Main Outcome Measures: Nine months post-hospital discharge, a 3T MRI scan and cognitive testing were performed and patients completed questionnaires. Medical data were retrieved from medical dossiers. Hierarchical regression analyses were performed on fatigue severity (Fatigue Severity Scale; FSS) and cognitive complaints (Cognitive Consequences after Intensive Care Admission; CLC-IC; dichotomized into CLC-high/low). Variable blocks: (1) Demographic and premorbid factors (sex, age, education, comorbidities), (2) Illness severity (ICU/general ward, PROMIS physical functioning [PROMIS-PF]), (3) Neuro-cognitive factors (self-reported neurological symptoms, MRI abnormalities, cognitive performance), (4) Psychological and social factors (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale [HADS], Utrecht Coping List, Social Support List), and (5) Fatigue or cognitive complaints. Results: The final models explained 60% (FSS) and 48% (CLC-IC) variance, with most blocks (except neuro-cognitive factors for FSS) significantly contributing. Psychological and social factors accounted for 5% (FSS) and 11% (CLC-IC) unique variance. Higher FSS scores were associated with younger age (P=.01), lower PROMIS-PF (P<.001), higher HADS-Depression (P=.03), and CLC-high (P=.04). Greater odds of CLC-high were observed in individuals perceiving more social support (OR=1.07, P<.05). Conclusions: Results show that psychological and social factors add to biomedical factors in explaining persistent post-COVID-19 fatigue and cognitive complaints. Objective neuro-cognitive factors were not associated with symptoms. Findings highlight the importance of multidomain treatment, including psychosocial care, which may not target biologically-rooted symptoms directly but may reduce associated distress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)826-834
Number of pages9
JournalArchives of physical medicine and rehabilitation
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


  • Cognitive complaints
  • Fatigue
  • Infection
  • Long COVID
  • Post-COVID
  • Rehabilitation
  • SARS-CoV-2

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