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05 June, 2023
 
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Teenagers aged three years in lockdowns

The difference between brain and chronological age was close to three years, even though the lockdowns lasted much less

Kathimerini Greece Newsroom

Signs of premature aging have been found in the brains of teenagers who have been subjected to long-term lockdowns in recent years. The MRIs of the brains of 81 teenagers in the United States taken between November 2016 and November 2019 were compared to those of 82 other peers taken between October 2020 and March 2022, during the pandemic and after the "bans" were lifted.

The researchers accounted for gender and age in each group of 64 volunteers and discovered that physical brain changes associated with adolescence, such as cortical thinning and hippocampal and amygdala development, were greater in the group tested after the pandemic lockdowns. As a result of the pandemic, physiological processes were accelerated, and children's brains aged faster than expected.

the difference between brain age and chronological age was close to three years, which is surprising given that the lockdowns lasted much less

According to Ian Gottlieb, professor of psychology at Stanford University and co-author of the study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Global Open Science, the difference between brain age and chronological age was close to three years, which is surprising given that the lockdowns lasted much less.

Children tested after the lockdowns reported more psychological problems, such as more severe symptoms of anxiety and depression and internalizing their problems. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The volunteers from the San Francisco area agreed to be tested in order to study the effects of stress and depression on the brain. They also completed questionnaires about their mental health to this end. Children examined after the lockdowns reported more psychological problems, such as increased anxiety and depression symptoms and internalization of their problems.

The stress of the pandemic

Professor Gottlieb contends that the decline in children's mental health is linked to changes in their brains, most likely caused by the pandemic's intense stress. However, the researchers are unsure whether the decline in adolescents' mental health is due to premature brain aging, or what the true significance of the discovery is.

"Cognitive skills decline in older adults as a result of brain changes. But we don't know what they mean in adolescents or whether they're permanent or temporary "Professor Gottlieb concluded.

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