North Carolina doctor thinks this treatment could help COVID-19 patients with brain fog

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- A longtime treatment for burn victims and survivors of traumatic brain injury may provide significant help for people trying to recover from some of the cognitive fallout caused by COVID-19.

"Women could not figure out what was going on with them -- anxiety, depression and brain fog," said 51-year-old Whitney Madden, an acupuncturist and certified brain health coach.

Like many her age, Madden feels the effects of menopause, one being cognitive decline, also known as brain fog.

On Friday, Madden was helped into a hyperbaric oxygen chamber by Dr. Michael Trayford, founder of Apex Brain Centers in Asheville.

Trayford was preparing Madden for a dive. The treatment takes Madden's body to the equivalent of 18 feet below sea level, then adds as much as 400 percent more oxygen than normal to body tissues, cells and fluids for quicker, more effective healing.

"Cognitive decline is optional. That is not a normal part of aging. That means your system is out of balance," Madden said.

What isn't optional is COVID-19, an illness that is a threat to all of us, no matter what age, no matter how safe we think we're being. Medical experts are learning about COVID-19 as they go.

What they're finding so far sounds awfully familiar, the same effects as those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

TBI treatment is one of Trayford's specialties.

"Cognitive impairment, fatigue, body aches and pain, you name it, the sky's the limit on these symptoms," Trayford said. "There's this kind of 'COVID brain' going on after the fact now. People just can't get back to their normal selves, they're in a constant fog. The cognitive impairment is one of our central areas of focus, and we are starting to get calls now on this."

Phone calls are coming because there's a public health crisis underway and anxiety is building beyond the immediate, acute aspects of the virus and fear of the future.

"While we're not treating COVID-19, the fallout from that will be felt for years to come," Trayford said.

Trayford hopes hyperbaric oxygen therapy might help with what for many will be a long journey toward coronavirus recovery.

"Breathing better, moving better, eating better, sleeping better, their brains naturally get better as a result of that, so it becomes a catalyst, a tremendous catalyst," Trayford said.

Report from ABC affiliate WLOS.