A stressful job and lifestyle could damage a person’s short-term memory in old age, scientists have warned. A study at the University of Iowa has found a potential link between a hormone and short-term memory loss in older people.

It revealed that having high levels in cortisol – a natural hormone in the body, which increases when a person is stressed – can lead to memory lapses as a person ages.

Short-term increases in cortisol levels are vital for survival. The hormone allows a person to cope, helping the body to respond to life’s challenges by making it more alert and allowing a person to think on their feet.

But abnormally high or prolonged spikes in cortisol, which can happen when a person is dealing with long-term stressful situations, can lead to digestion problems, anxiety, weight gain and high blood pressure, studies have shown.

Jason Radley, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Iowa, said: ‘Stress hormones are one mechanism that we believe leads to weathering of the brain.

‘Like a rock on the shoreline, after years and years it will eventually break down and disappear.’

Scientists linked the raised levels of cortisol to the gradual loss of synapses in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that houses short-term memory.

Synapses are the connections that help the brain process, store and recall information.

As a person ages, repeated and long-term exposure to cortisol, can cause synapses to shrink and disappear.

While previous research has shown cortisol produces similar affects in other regions of the ageing brain, this is the first study to examine its impact on the prefrontal cortex, the university said… see more

source: Dailymail UK