A new study published in the Annals of Neurology by the Imperial College of London states that changes found in the brain structure of patients who have experienced critical head injuries mirrors those found in seniors. This means that a person may be chronologically “young” while the age of his brain is “older.” The special imaging program developed through the study can be used to predict if those with older brains have an increased probability of developing neurodegenerative diseases later in life.
The first step was to create a computer program that could predict the person’s age. Researchers used a special algorithm which looks at the ratio between white and gray matter in different parts of the brain to determine age. Brain scans collected from more than 1,500 healthy individuals was analyzed and used to develop the program.
Is brain age a better predictor of long-term health?
With a validated program in hand, scientists ascertained the age of the brain in 113 healthy subjects and 99 who had experienced traumatic brain injuries during a period anywhere from one month to 46 years before the scan. The results showed that brain trauma aged the brain by on average five years. The more severe the injury, the greater the discrepancy between brain age and actual age. Further, the larger the gap between the brain’s age and actual age, the more likely that there was significant cognitive dysfunction as well. On the other hand, the brain scans of the healthy subjects were consistent with their actual chronological age.
Another finding of note had to do with the long-term impact of brain injuries. It seems that while the trauma causes an initial aging of the brain, transformations to brain structure continue to develop over time due to the continuing biological changes that occur following the injury. This proves that brain injury trauma is not static. Rather, the negative results continue to develop in the brain and neurological systems for many years into the future and can be a causative factor in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
-Written by Michael Mullan