Brain Age

How old you think is your own brain?

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Generally, aging is great. Really! It helps us change from soft, helpless babies into smart, strong adults. Without aging, our bones would not grow and our eyes would not learn to focus. Aging works on all aspects of our bodies - think of your muscles, without aging, they would not have gained the power to help you crawl, walk and run. Like our muscles, our brains are also physical structures that benefit from the aging process.

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When we are young, our brains are packed with neurons that are ready to make billions of new connections. This is referred to plasticity. This plasticity helps us absorb the flood of new sights, sounds, smells and tastes that we are constantly bathed in, adapting to our environment. We have all these fresh neurons so we can control basic vital functions, such as breathing and swallowing and learn complex cognitive skills, like bike riding or singing in the shower.

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How and why our brains change as we age is very complex and scientists are still working to figure it out. We have learned that there is a ton of variety in the way and pace that people age. You may have noticed that some people look much older compared to others of the same age. For example, think of external signs of aging, some people turn gray in their twenties, while others have smooth skin well into old age.

Importantly, one sign of aging doesn’t imply all of your body is aging. So even if your hair is turning gray, your brain might be still young and fiery! Because crucially, even within our own bodies, different parts can age at different rates.

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The brain is your most valuable asset. Simply put, without our brains, there is not too much left of us. Therefore, scientists are fascinated with investigating the aging process of our brains. Fortunately, a London-based research group has developed a way to calculate human brain age from a brain MRI scan (1).

This means they can give you an estimate of how far along in the aging process your brain is. For example, if your brain looks exactly like a typical 10-year-old, your brain age will be 10 and if your brain looks just like the brain of a 40-year old, then your brain age will be 40!

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BrainKey has adapted this algorithm and put it to use so that you can now easily calculate your brain age yourself. If you’ve ever had a brain MRI, you can easily access the service.

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Similar to working out to keep your muscles energetic, there are things you can do to keep your brain younger.

A healthy lifestyle, balanced nutrition, and regular physical exercise can help to boost your brainpower. So, just like it’s a good idea to keep track of your weight and blood pressure, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on how your brain is aging.

Find out your own brain age and learn more about your brain at BrainKey!

[1] Cole, J. H., Leech, R., Sharp, D. J., & Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. (2015). Prediction of brain age suggests accelerated atrophy after traumatic brain injury. Annals of neurology, 77(4), 571-581.

Cole, J. H., Underwood, J., Caan, M. W., De Francesco, D., van Zoest, R. A., Leech, R., ... & van der Loeff, M. F. S. (2017). Increased brain-predicted aging in treated HIV disease. Neurology, 88(14), 1349-1357.

Cole, J. H., Poudel, R. P., Tsagkrasoulis, D., Caan, M. W., Steves, C., Spector, T. D., & Montana, G. (2017). Predicting brain age with deep learning from raw imaging data results in a reliable and heritable biomarker. NeuroImage, 163, 115-124.

Cole, J. H., Ritchie, S. J., Bastin, M. E., Hernández, M. V., Maniega, S. M., Royle, N., ... & Wray, N. R. (2018). Brain age predicts mortality. Molecular psychiatry, 23(5), 1385.

Cole, J. H., Marioni, R. E., Harris, S. E., & Deary, I. J. (2019). Brain age and other bodily ‘ages’: implications for neuropsychiatry. Molecular psychiatry, 24(2), 266-281.

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