ICYMI: Teenagers’ Brains Physically Aged Three Years After 10 Months of Lockdown During the Pandemic

  • Published19 Jan 2023
  • Author Christine Won
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN
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iStock.com via smartboy10

We know mental health suffered during the pandemic. New research suggests so did physical brain health, at least for adolescents.

Structural changes in the brain are natural and normal with growth and time. However, a study from Stanford University comparing MRI scans of 81 adolescents from before the pandemic with 82 matched peers after pandemic lockdowns showed accelerated brain maturation or aging, according to findings published December 1 in Biological Psychiatry: Global Open Science.

Researchers said the accelerated development aged adolescent brains prematurely: Their Brain Age Gap Estimation (BrainAGE), a measure of brain health, showed that 10 months of pandemic lockdowns raised their BrainAGE by three years in a manner similar to that seen with exposure to early life adversity such as abuse, neglect, and violence. Early life adversity is known to affect health negatively, contributing to risk factors for disease in adulthood.

Big Picture: Yet unknown is the effect of adolescent adversity on the brain and body into adulthood, and whether these physical brain changes researchers observed are permanent, or if this accelerated aging will continue now that pandemic-related lockdowns are ending. The results could also impact other longitudinal studies involving adolescent population groups, as researchers would have to account for this abnormal neurodevelopment among this pandemic generation.

Read More: Teen brains aged faster than normal from pandemic stress, study says. Washington Post

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Gotlib I. H., Miller J. G., Borchers L. R., Coury S. M., Costello L. A., Garcia J. M., Ho T. C. (2022, December 1). Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Mental Health and Brain Maturation in Adolescents: Implications for Analyzing Longitudinal Data. Biol Psychiatry Glob Open Sci. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsgos.2022.11.002. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 36471743; PMCID: PMC9713854.

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