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Does Stress Affect Memory in the Elderly?

by Stacey Rossano on 3/5/15 11:37 AM

Does stress affect memory in the elderly? Scientific evidence shows that it can, and its affects are more pronounced in the elderly than it is in younger people. Additionally, there is some scientific evidence that stress can contribute to the development of Alzheimers disease and dementia. Here, we'll explore just how stress can impact memory in older adults and the potential link with Alzheimer's disease, as well as what seniors can do to reduce the impact of stress on the mind and memory.

can stress affect memory in elderly

What The Science Says About Stress, Memory And Alzheimer's Risk

According to numerous studies on the affects of stress on memory and brain health in older adults, a stress hormone called cortisol is at the root of those affects. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released into the bloodstream in response to stress. Ideally, elevated levels of cortisol are temporary, spiking in response to stress, then retiring to normal once the stressful situation has been remedied. When that happens, those high cortisol levels actually sharpen the mind and memory.

However, when cortisol levels remain high for a prolonged period, as occurs with chronic stress, it has the opposite affect, inhibiting short-term memory. Additionally, studies have shown that chronically high cortisol levels increase proteins called beta-amyloids in the brain, which are known to lead to memory problems and other cognitive issues, and are associated with Alzheimers disease and dementia.

What That Stress-Memory Connection Means For The Average Senior

What this means to the average senior is that effective stress management is an essential component in maintaining a healthy mind. So what can seniors do to reduce the impact of daily stress?

  • Stay active, physically and socially – Regular exercise helps decrease levels of cortisol and in the body, reducing its impact on brain health, and an active social life has been shown to support healthy cognitive function.
  • Nourish your brain – A diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, such as fish, nuts, beans, seeds and low-fat dairy provides a good mix of the nutrients your brain needs to resist the affects of stress and aging.

If stress is proving hard to control, even with an active, healthy lifestyle, consider seeing a counselor or taking a stress management course. After all, given the potential consequences, taking measures to protect yourself against the affects of chronic stress is essential to healthy aging.




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