When the brain ages faster than normal, people are at heightened risk for brain disease and impairment, as well as early death, a new British study suggests.
The study authors said the finding may introduce a way to use imaging of the brain as a biomarker — a way to measure a biological condition or process.
“Such biomarkers could potentially identify those at risk of age-associated health problems years before symptoms appear, and be used as outcome measures in trials of therapeutics aimed at delaying the onset of age-related disease,” said study lead author James Cole, from Imperial College London.
The researchers conducted brain scans of almost 700 adults in Scotland who were all born in 1936. Those whose brains appeared older on imaging scans than their chronological age tended to have weaker grips, poorer lung function, slower walking speed and more wear and tear on their bodies, the study found.
The people with “older” brains were also worse at solving new problems and had poorer performances when applying logic and identifying patterns, compared to those whose brain age matched their actual age.
The researchers also said it was possible to use brain scans to establish a 73-year-old’s brain-predicted age and to determine whether that person would die by the age of 80.
The study authors concluded that combining brain-predicted age with certain DNA factors of aging further improves predictions about a person’s risk of death.
The findings were published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
The research “demonstrates that combining distinct measures of biological aging further helps to determine risk of age-related deterioration and death,” Cole said in a journal news release.