The University of Iowa, (UI), has released results of a study demonstrating the link between stress hormones and short term memory loss in older adults. The research findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience and demonstrate that high levels of cortisol can lead to memory loss as we age. Cortisol is also called a stress hormone and its levels increase substantially when people are stressed.
Cortisol’s function to act as a fight and flight response. It makes people more alter and more capable of coping with stressful situations. However, abnormal levels of cortisol due to a chronic stressor can lead to serious health problems including digestion problems, anxiety, weight gain, blood pressure and memory lapses as people age.
Researchers from the University of Iowa lined elevated amounts of cortisol to gradual loss of synapses in the prefrontal cortex, in a manner that resembles a gradual wearing down process.
“Stress hormones are one mechanism that we believe leads to weathering of the brain,” said Jason Radley, assistant professor in psychology at UI and corresponding author on the paper.
This was the first study to demonstrate the impact of cortisol on the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the region associated with short memory loss.
Another study demonstrated that laughter may be the best medicine to combat this memory loss. Research presented on April 27th at the Experimental Biology Meeting on April 27th revealed the health impact of humor and laughter on healthy elderly individuals and a group of elderly diabetic patients.
A 20 minute funny video was shown to the healthy group and the diabetic group. The research participants were asked to complete a memory assessment that measured their learning, recall and sight recognition. These findings were compares to another group of elderly patients who were asked to complete the memory assessment without the funny video. Cortisol concentration were recorded at the beginning and the end for each group.
The results of the study demonstrate that there was a significant decrease in cortisol concentrations for the healthy and the diabetic group that watched the videos. The diabetic group showed the most significant changes in cortisol levels whereas the healthy group showed the most significant changes in memory test scores.
Study co-author and long-time psychoneuroimmunology humor researcher, Dr. Lee Berk commented on the study: “It’s simple, the less stress you have the better your memory. Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow and your mood state. The act of laughter — or simply enjoying some humor — increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward. These positive and beneficial neurochemical changes, in turn, make the immune system function better. There are even changes in brain wave activity towards what’s called the “gamma wave band frequency,” which also amp up memory and recall. So, indeed, laughter is turning out to be not only a good medicine, but also a memory enhancer adding to our quality of life.”
University of Iowa. “Stress hormone linked to short-term memory loss as we age, animal study suggests.”
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). “Fight memory loss with a smile (or chuckle).”