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Covid impact: Brains of teenagers show premature ageing, finds new study

The study also found severe mental health problems in the young population after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Primary sections of Pune schools welcome back tiny totsResearchers had said that fewer face-to-face encounters among teens might harm mental health and growth. (File)

The brains of teenagers who lived through the Covid-19 pandemic are showing symptoms of premature ageing, a new study has found. The researchers behind the study said physical changes that occurred during adolescence, such as thinning of the cortex and growth of the hippocampus and the amygdala. were more significant after the pandemic compared to the pre-pandemic time, which suggests the brain has aged faster.

For the study, the researchers compared MRI scans of 81 teenagers in the United States before the pandemic with scans of 82 teens collected during the pandemic after lockdowns were lifted.

“Brain age difference was about three years – we hadn’t expected that large an increase given that the lockdown was less than a year [long],” Ian Gotlib, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and first author of the study, told The Guardian.

The study also found severe mental health problems in the young population after the pandemic. The impact of faster brain ageing and its effect on mental health is not clear yet.

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“We are starting to rescan all of the participants at age 20, so we’ll have a better sense of whether these changes persist or start to diminish with time,” Gotlib said.

“In older adults, these brain changes are often associated with reduced cognitive functioning. It’s not clear yet what they mean in adolescents. But this is the first demonstration that difficulties in mental health during the pandemic are accompanied by what seem to be stress-related changes in brain structure,” he added.

Earlier in 2020, researchers had said that fewer face-to-face encounters among teens might harm mental health and growth. Between the ages of 10 and 24 years is a life stage when interacting with peers is vital for brain development and building a sense of self, according to the authors of an opinion piece in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal. Studies have indicated that reduced social contact during this period may have long-term detrimental effects.

First published on: 02-12-2022 at 12:29 IST
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