Teenagers’ brains have aged prematurely due to the pandemic, according to a new study.
This study, published in an academic journal, compared brain scans of teenagers from before the pandemic with scans taken at the end of the first year. Shockingly, the teenagers’ brains had aged three years in just ten months.
Teenagers’ brains: premature aging due to pandemic stress
The research started eight years ago as a longitudinal study of 128 children between the ages of 9 and 13. The goal was to look at depression rates among teens and see if there were gender differences in the results.
Unfortunately for the researchers, COVID-19 brought the study to an end after the participants’ third scan had taken place. Each scan was meant to be taken two years apart to measure the changes in the children.
The researchers therefore decided to shift its purpose to observe how the pandemic may have affected the physical structure of the teens’ brains, in addition to their mental health.
Participants of the same age and gender were paired and then sorted them into subgroups by puberty, socioeconomic status and types of childhood stress, to assess the changes to their brains.
“That allowed us to compare 16-year-olds before the pandemic with different 16-year-olds assessed after the pandemic,” explained Ian Gotlib, lead author on the paper and a psychology professor at Stanford University.
The researchers discovered that teens who experienced the pandemic had higher levels of anxiety and depression.
The study also found growth in participants’ hippocampus and amygdala brain regions, which respectively regulate memory and help process emotions like fear and stress.
“The takeaway for me is that there are serious issues with mental health and kids around the pandemic,” he said. “Just because the shutdown ended doesn’t mean we’re fine.”
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