Linking Brain Age Gap to Mental and Physical Health in the Berlin Aging Study II
From a biological perspective, humans differ in the speed they age, and this may manifest in both mental and physical health disparities. The discrepancy between an individual’s biological and chronological age of the brain (“brain age gap”) can be assessed by applying machine learning techniques to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) data. Here, we examined the links between brain age gap and a broad range of cognitive, affective, socioeconomic, lifestyle, and physical health variables in up to 335 adults of the Berlin Aging Study II. Brain age gap was assessed using a validated prediction model that we previously trained on MRI scans of 32,634 UK Biobank individuals. Our statistical analyses revealed overall stronger evidence for a link between higher brain age gap and less favorable health characteristics than expected under the null hypothesis of no effect, with 80% of the tested associations showing hypothesis-consistent effect directions and 23% reaching nominal significance. The most compelling support was observed for a cluster covering both cognitive performance variables (episodic memory, working memory, fluid intelligence, digit symbol substitution test) and socioeconomic variables (years of education and household income). Furthermore, we observed higher brain age gap to be associated with heavy episodic drinking, higher blood pressure, and higher blood glucose. In sum, our results point toward multifaceted links between brain age gap and human health. Understanding differences in biological brain aging may therefore have broad implications for future informed interventions to preserve mental and physical health in old age.
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