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KPCC: Teen Brains Have Aged Significantly Over the Course of the Pandemic, New Study Finds

KPCC show AirTalk recently interviewed Yana J. Tavyev, MD, director of the Division of Pediatric Neurology at Cedars-Sinai, about a new study showing that in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affecting the mental health of young people, it appears to have caused teen brains to age more quickly.

In the study, published in Biological Psychiatry: Global Open Science, investigators compared scans of teen brains after pandemic lockdowns to those of teens of similar age before the pandemic. The brains scanned afterward appeared older. Scientists are concerned about premature brain aging because it can cause increased anxiety and depression.

Tavyev, who was not involved in the study, told AirTalk host Larry Mantle that stress affected many adolescents during the pandemic, whether due to sleep changes, increased screen time, lack of exercise or other factors. All of these stressors could have affected the rate of brain maturation.

 “We know that there was loneliness because there was so much social isolation. Was it perhaps due to the fact that they were in a less enriched learning environment? With the changes in school, maybe they weren't learning as much, and their brains weren't challenged enough in the learning process,” Tavyev told Mantle.

But Tavyev added that the findings could also be viewed in a positive way.

“The brain is constantly changing and of course, the younger you are, the more potential there is for brain change and brain growth,” Tavyev told Mantle. “And so maybe we have temporary changes, but I’m hopeful that [the pandemic] taught the kids something and that they will become more resilient in the future.”

She added that socializing with peers, good nutrition and exercise could positively impact the brain and mental health.

Click here to listen to the complete episode of AirTalk.