CogniFit's Science blog: Memory Loss And Stress

Memory Loss And Stress

The lifestyles of today, especially in the cities where most of the world population currently lives, offer many opportunities and possibilities, but many risks as well. The most important of those are still not fully known. The neuroscience has been especially rich in new learnings.

One of the effects of the modern lifestyles is the growth of stress and stressful situations. It is no news to connect stress with bad effects for the mental health and happiness. But other cognitive areas may be affected and reduced as a consequence of stress, thus reducing the ability of the people to fully use their capacities.

Memory is one of the most important cognitive abilities. It is what allows each person to really exist, to have a history. But also, it is the ability that allows to use any past learning in the present day. Memory is used every day, and although it may seem that the new technologies reduce the need for the human memory, in reality the need for it is increasing as the quantity of information each person needs to process each day is also increasing.

Memory, most importantly, the memory loss, is one of the many negative effects of stress. We forget things easily when in stressful situations, or when suffering from prolonged stress, which erases part of our lives.

This theory has been previously tested on mice, proving that the brain cells inside the hippocampus responsible for learning and memory react in a different frequency when at stress and not at stress. In the experiment, the mice were supposed to swim and find a sub-surface platform, remember its location, and find it again. This was quite an easy task for them, however after hearing a series of stressful sounds, the mice had a hard time remembering it. The research found that stress lowers the ability to connect the brain cells responsible to form memories. The effect of this goes beyond remembering things, it affects other functions requiring memory, such as decision-making.

So, what’s the point in all this? Should we avoid stress? Of course we should, but eliminating stress from our lives isn’t an easy deal if we want to live in society, or in the cities. It is in fact a trade-off with which most people live. So the point is not how to totally avoid stress, but rather how to manage and reduce it. Stress reduction isn’t just important for your mental health, it is instrumental for the maintenance of your cognitive abilities, today and in the future.