Psychophysiological effects of Covid-19 long lockdown and sensory deprivation on cognitive performance and emotional responses (LoCogEm)
Italy was the first European country in which Covid-19 had an epidemic spread. Italian lockdown and associated social isolation was among the most severe and long ones introduced in Europe. Several surveys on the negative effects induced by Italian lockdown evidenced the onset of anxious and depressive symptoms along with sleep and stress-induced disorders in a large portion of population. In the elderly, the immobilization and movement restriction might lead in a few weeks to an irreversible physical and cognitive degradation. After prolonged confinement, the impairment of cognitive performance in workers forced to stay in smart working may lead to consistent economic costs. An important portion of our brain is engaged in motor activity and even the simplest movements associated to a walk are able to stimulate the whole brain and to induce neural plasticity. In several studies carried out in our laboratory, a brief period (2 or 4 hours) of bed ridden condition evidenced, in both young and old participants, strong effects on cognition, cortical plasticity and emotions. Compared with bed immobilization, less marked effects can be expected after brief lockdown-related home restrictions, but on the long run, after months, the effects on cognition and mood may become consistent and dangerous. Lockdown may start a vicious circle that self-feeds from the apathy, sensory deprivation and motor restriction also in young people. We hypothesize that the prolonged confinement at home, the consequent sensory deprivation and reduced motor activity are able to significant reduce attention, memory and emotional responses that in turn may induce apathy and depression. To this end we plan the selection of two matched groups of participants, one self-confined at home after lockdown and a group of individuals who come back to normal activity out of home. We will measure at participants’ home, several variables and indexes by means of questionnaires, actigraphs and psychophysiological tools to test the hypothesis that long-term limitation of movements and home confinement affect cognitive processes, emotions and mood.