For what is thought to be the largest study of its kind, the researchers analyzed brain scans of 31,227 people aged 9 months–105 years.
In a paper that now features in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, they describe how they identified “patterns of aging” from the brain scans.
These were done using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and came from people with psychiatric conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. They were all attending a psychiatric clinic that was based at several locations.
Each participant underwent two SPECT brain scans — one during a resting state, and another during completion of “a concentration task” — giving a total of 62,454 scans.
The scientists found that they could predict a person’s age from the pattern of blood flow in their brain.
Brain circulation varied over lifespan
They observed that blood flow varied from childhood into older age throughout the lifespan. They also saw that brain aging was more visible in scans of men and those with schizophrenia, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD.
Brain aging was also more strongly associated with use of cannabis and alcohol.
“Based on one of the largest brain imaging studies ever done,” says lead study author Dr. Daniel G. Amen, a psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics in Costa Mesa, CA, “we can now track common disorders and behaviors that prematurely age the brain.”
He suggests that improving the treatment of these disorders could “slow or even halt the process of brain aging.”