Life is full of stressors, but depending on how much stress you experience, your cognitive ability may be affected.

According to new research, stressful life experiences “among middle-aged women – but not men – [lead to] greater memory decline in later life.” (“’Stressors’”, 2019).

This was found by stress hormones that were evident in the brains of women that showed high rates of Alzheimer’s disease over men. 1 in 6 “women over age 60 will get Alzheimer’s disease, compared with 1 in 11 men.”  Stress hormones may factor into the cause of dementia in the future as well (“’Stressors’”, 2019).

“‘We can’t get rid of stressors, but we might adjust the way we respond to stress, and have a real effect on brain function as we age…and although our study did not show the same association for men, it sheds further light on the effects of stress response on the brain with potential application to both men and women,’ “ stated Cynthia Munro, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (“’Stressors’”, 2019).

To study this development of cognitive decline in women, the study analyzed over 900 Baltimore residents – most were white women in their late 40’s and above. The trail involved interviews that took place throughout many years – one in 1982, the next in 1993, and the final ones between 2003 and 2004 (“’Stressors’”, 2019).

Participants were asked if they had undergone any trauma, such as being raped or physically attacked. They were then asked if they had any stressful life experiences, such as losing a job or loved one.

The participants were then tested with a memory test – they were required to recall 20 words that were spoken out loud to them immediately after the tester spoke them, then 20 minutes later (“’Stressors’”, 2019).

It was found that “women who experienced no stressful life experiences within the past year at the third visit were able to remember on average 0.5 fewer words when given the same memory test on the fourth visit. Women with one or more stressful life experiences, however, recalled on average one fewer word at the fourth visit…the ability to recognize words declined by an average of 1.7 words for women with at least one stressor, versus a 1.2 word decline for women without stressors at midlife,” (“’Stressors’”, 2019).

The influx of sustained stress hormones (cortisol) in the brain can negatively affect the hippocampus, which is responsible for managing memories. Repeated stress makes it harder for the brain to recover from a rush of cortisol, thus damaging the hippocampus’ ability to hold memories (“’Stressors’”, 2019).

Reference: Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2019, August 5). ‘Stressors’ in middle age linked to cognitive decline in older women. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 11, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/08/190805101144.htm

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