Brains don’t like negative stress, so says the authors of a study, which was reported in the December 2014, edition of Psychology and Aging. The authors expected to find an association between so called cognitive decline and everyday memory problems being exacerbated by stress.
One hundred and twelve people were studied in a subsample of the Boston Longitudinal Study. They were studied on two occasions over a 10-year period. The levels of stress were measured by self-report paper-and-pencil measures, as well as lab tests using saliva samples to measure cortisol (a hormone) profiles.
As mentioned above, the researchers were interested in measuring cognitive decline. The subjects were given seven cognitive tests measuring: working memory, reasoning, and processing speed.
Individuals with greater declines in cognition also reported more memory problems than did individuals with less cognitive declines especially when they experienced times of greater stress.
The results suggest that the increasing cognitive decline identified in this study across a decade may result in reduced abilities of cognitive resources to function well in daily life activities. This is magnified under stressful conditions. Those with high levels of neuroticism and those older in age reported a greater number of memory problems during times of greater daily stress.
So what is our take-away from this study? While we all live in a world filled with stressors, this study shows how important it is for us to manage those stressors especially as we age. Unfortunately if we do not manage our stressors, we have evidence that we could experience negative performance in general cognition and memory functioning. On the positive side, this study provides us with a sense of control. By taking our stress management seriously we may not slide towards the negative performance nearly as rapidly.
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