Recent studies show that the COVID-19 pandemic stress accelerated the aging process in adolescents’ brains. Researchers at Stanford University found that the stress of the global health emergency had a physiological effect on the brains of adolescents, causing them to seem several years older than their peers who had not been exposed to the same level of trauma.
The study found that adult rates of anxiety and despair increased by almost 25% in just 2020. Recent research published in Biological Psychiatry suggests that the neurological & mental health effects of COVID on adolescents may have been significantly more severe than previously thought.
As humans age, they experience a natural shift in brain structure. Teenagers’ hippocampuses and amygdalae both expand significantly during the onset and early stages of puberty. These parts of the brain regulate emotional responses and memory recall. Cortex tissues, meanwhile, are thinning out.
Prof. Gotlib’s research found that this developmental process accelerated among adolescents who underwent COVID-19 lockdowns by comparing MRI scans of 163 kids performed before and after the epidemic.
Up until now, youngsters experiencing persistent stress, like that caused by violence or neglect, were the only ones to show signs of premature brain aging. However, it is yet unknown whether the changes in brain architecture during the pandemic would have the same effect, as similar events have been linked to poor mental health consequences later in life, as prof. Gotlib explains.
The effect of COVID stress on adolescent brain structure was not a primary research aim at first. Before the epidemic, Gotlib’s team had enlisted a sample of children and teenagers from the San Francisco Bay Area in a long research on depression in adolescence. Researchers were unable to perform planned MRI scans on individuals because of the epidemic.
The study was already a year behind track by the time Gotlib could resume the brain scans. The delay in evaluating the brain scan information may normally be corrected for statistically, but the pandemic was anything from normal.