Whether you’re worried about your health care (that’s 78 percent of you), your finances (30 percent say it’s a constant anxiety, while 40 percent go sleepless because of money woes) or your basic needs (40 percent of you believe that you’re being underpaid in your jobs), you’re a candidate for stressheimer’s — memory problems triggered by relentless anxiety.
According to researchers from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, among their study participants 70 and older, every 5-point increase in a person’s perceived stress score boosted the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment by 30 percent! Folks who had the very highest estimation of their daily stress levels were 250 percent more likely to suffer from cognition problems than lesser-stressed folks. But stressheimer’s doesn’t just affect older folks.
In a 2007 study published in Acta Psychologica, researchers found that among 70 male students, acute psychosocial stress prevented them from remembering words they were tasked with memorizing when tested five weeks later. Peers not subject to acute stress recalled the words much more frequently. Even more interesting, an animal study showed that early-life stress translates to late-in-life cognition problems. That may be because it causes structural changes in the brain’s frontal cortex and in the neurons themselves, when they’re overexposed to stress hormones.
A 2012 study by researchers from Columbia University Medical Center found chronic stress affects type 2 ryanodine receptors in the hippocampus, the brain region that plays a central role in learning and memory. These receptors are channels that regulate the calcium levels in neurons, which cells need to function and survive.
Turns out, memory is also affected by gender. Guys’ retrieval of declarative memory (facts and events) is more affected by stress than gals’, suggesting that perhaps sex hormones play a role.
HOW’S YOUR MEMORY?
Are you finding yourself at a loss for words or losing your train of thought more frequently? Are you increasingly bad at remembering names?
According to researchers at Gothenburg University in Denmark, while many 50- and 60-year-olds complain that their memory is not as sharp as before, during their four-year study only 10 percent of participants went on to develop true dementia. For 90 percent, their memory troubles were almost always related to major stress.
But here’s the good news: You can alter you stress response so that it doesn’t damage your brain and memory.
How to dispel stress and protect your brain:
1. Get around 60 minutes of aerobic exercise four or more days a week. It burns off stress hormones!
2. Meditate. Or learn deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation or at least one of the 12 techniques that work for some for managing stress. Remember that stress isn’t the event, it’s your reaction to it. Discover the world of choices for stress management by reading “What meditation technique is right for me?” at sharecare.com. Meditation lowers blood pressure, eases anxiety, improves mood, increases sleep quality and boosts your outlook on life.
3. Identify stressors. Talk about them with friends or family, face to face, not via Facebook. It’s the most powerful way of not aging or decreasing brain function from stress. You may benefit from keeping a stress diary. (Download one at mindtools.com; click on “Toolkits,” then “Stress Management.”)
4. Get help from a trained counselor. Ask friends and doctors for recommendations.
5. The tough one: Remove unnecessary stressors from your life. This is hard because it means you have to recognize the financial choices, activities, habits and addictions (digital, alcohol, drugs, gambling) that cause you unnecessary stress. If you’re chronically late or frequently nervous about seeing someone, going somewhere or doing something, those are tells that you need to do a house cleaning.
No pressure, we don’t want to cause you stress.
Download the free Cleveland Clinic Stress Free Now app in the App Store. Over several months, you may see memory improvements.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.