MRI links head injuries to brain aging

British researchers have found that the brains of people with serious head injuries show signs similar to those of increased aging.

The researchers found that the brain injury patients were on average approximately five years older than their real age, and that their brains resembled those of older adults (Annals of Neurology, April 2015, Vol. 77:4, pp. 571-581).

Using brain MRI scans from more than 1,500 healthy people, James Cole, PhD, and colleagues from Imperial College London developed a computer program that could predict a person's age from the exam. The data were then used to estimate the "brain age" of 113 other healthy people and 99 patients who had experienced traumatic brain injuries.

In the healthy controls, the average difference between predicted age and real age was 0. However, the difference was significantly higher in patients with traumatic brain injury, with a greater discrepancy among those patients with more severe injuries. The differences in predicted age were also associated with cognitive impairments, such as poor memory and slow reaction times.

Cole and colleagues also found a correlation between the time since the injury and the predicted age difference. This suggests that the changes in brain structure are not from the initial injury, but rather are due to ongoing biological processes that may progress more quickly after an injury.

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