The Pandemic Has Aged Teenage Brains, New Study Shows

A troubling study out of Stanford University shows premature aging in the brains of adolescents who were monitored before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The study appears to confirm that pandemic stress has greatly impacted the nation’s youth.

The study was published December 1 in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Global Open Science. It found increased growth in the hippocampus and the amygdala and thinner tissue in the cortex, an area involved in executive functioning. This is a normal process of brain development that typically occurs later in life. But these changes in adolescents are not normal. 

“Until now, such accelerated changes in ‘brain age’ have only been seen in children experiencing chronic adversity, such as neglect and family dysfunction,” The Scientific American reports

It’s not clear whether the brain changes in adolescents after lockdowns are permanent. If the changes are permanent, it could spell trouble.

“Will their chronological age eventually catch up to their ‘brain age’? If their brain remains permanently older than their chronological age, it’s unclear what the outcomes will be in the future,” said the study’s lead author Ian Gotli. “For a 70- or 80-year-old, you’d expect some cognitive and memory problems based on changes in the brain, but what does it mean for a 16-year-old if their brains are aging prematurely?”