Stress Linked to Memory Loss as We Age
Research done at the University of Iowa reports a potential link between stress hormones and short-term memory loss in older adults. The study, published in June 2014 in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that prolonged high levels of cortisol can lead to memory lapses as we age.
The team linked elevated amounts of cortisol to the gradual loss of synapses in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that houses short-term memory. Previous studies have shown that cortisol negatively affects other regions of the aging brain, but this was the first study to examine its impact on the prefrontal cortex. Synapses are the connections that help us process, store, and recall information.
The release quotes corresponding author Jason Radley as saying, “Stress hormones are one mechanism that we believe leads to weathering of the brain.”
Although the findings are preliminary, they raise the possibility that short-memory decline in aging adults may be slowed or prevented with treatments that decrease levels of cortisol in susceptible individuals, Radley said. That could mean treating people who have high levels of cortisol, such as those who are depressed or those who experience traumatic life events like the death of a loved one.
According to Radley and Rachel Anderson, the paper’s lead author, short-term memory lapses related to cortisol start around age 65.