It’s your birthday party. But at this celebration, you and your brain get two separate cakes. To your surprise, your brain’s cake has a different number of candles on it than your own. What gives?
A study by University of Florida Health researchers found that older adults with chronic pain had brains that were, on average, two years older than their owner’s actual age. Scientists used MRI scans to measure the brain mass of study participants. Then, they plugged those into a unique machine-learning algorithm developed by a study co-author in Great Britain that essentially recognizes what a brain should look like at any particular age.
Scientists acknowledge that more research is needed. Still, their findings show that chronic pain might be taking a toll on our brains, increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and even death.
But even modest efforts to treat the pain might help reverse the trend. Study findings show that people who sought pain relief, even something as simple as a cold compress on an aching knee, had younger-appearing brains.
The best news of all came for those study participants who had no chronic pain at all. The study showed their brains, on average, looked four years younger than their chronological age.
Scientists note there’s some variability in results. Not everyone with chronic pain, for example, had older-appearing brains.
Previous research shows that lifestyle might play an important part in brain aging. Stress is thought to speed that internal clock, while meditation might slow it. Research suggests dancing might also help make keep our brains younger.
So, keep on dancing. After all, it’s your birthday!