Effects of Stress Related Memory Loss and its Causes

Memory is one of the most important functions of the human brain. A good memory is important in all stages of life. From childhood through to adulthood, a person’s learning abilities, scholastic achievements, performance of a task – all depend on the strength of his/her Memory.

Quite simply, normal memory is required to carry on with day-to-day activities. When you know the importance of memory, it is easy to understand the hardships of people suffering from loss of memory.

Memory loss, along with the impairment of other functions of the brain is also referred to as dementia.

Causes of Memory Loss:

Memory loss occurs due to some dysfunction in the brain. The commonest causes are:

• Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative disease of the brain is the most common cause of dementia. It commonly affects older people.

• Brain stroke: it is caused by lack of blood supply to the brain. Smoker, diabetics and those with hypertension and high cholesterol are at risk.

• Infections such as HIV, syphilis, brain fever (meningitis, encephalitis).

• Nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin B 12 deficiency.

• Endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism.

• Head injury.

• Brain tumors.

• Stress and depression.

Memory Loss and Stress

Stress and Memory Loss:

Mental stress, anxiety, depression and other psychiatric disorders are the main causes of memory loss today. In anxiety and stress, there is no structural damage to the brain (as compared to AD or brain stroke, where structural changes occur).

The result or report of a brain scan (CT or MRI) is often normal in patient with stress-related memory loss, while in patients of AD and brain stroke the report will have specific findings.

Biochemical Basis of Stress-Related Memory Loss:

Stress or anxiety leads to several biochemical changes in the brain. During periods of stress, chemicals like adrenaline and cortical are released.

Adrenaline prepares an individual for the “fight or flight response:, typically seen during acute stress/anxiety. Adrenaline promotes the release of cortical. Both adrenaline and cortical can adversely affect memory.

The major difference between the tow is that cortical stays in the blood and brain for a longer time than adrenaline. The effect of adrenaline is so powerful that our brain gets fogged out for some time during stress.

The result is that the person affected is seen looking blank and staring into space. Only when the levels of adrenaline drop once the stress is reduced stress is reduced does s/he come back to reality.

So, if a person is under chronic stress and thus under the influence of high levels of adrenaline and cortisol, it can lead to dysfunction of and/or damage to the brain. Cortisol is known to damage the hippocampus (these eat of memory in brain).

Cortisol in excess can impair the hippocampus in such a way that the affected person can neither form or register new memories nor retrieve any existing information from memory. The practice of Yoga and meditation can help in reducing stress.

However, not all stress is bad for the brain. Small periods of stress (such as stress of getting a project completed within the stipulated deadline) can have a beneficial effect on the functional capacity of the brain.

These brief stressful stimuli can keep the brain in an aroused state for some time, thereby increasing its efficiency.

How can the immediate circle of people help the affected individual?

First of all, it is important to recognize that the person is suffering from stress and stress-related memory loss. Family and friends are usually the first ones to notice symptomatic changes in the individual.

If a person is found looking lost, having a worried look all the it me or taking a long time to complete a simple task, one should suspect stress-related memory loss.

It may be important to discuss the issue with close family members so that the reasons for stress can be identified. Common stressors include:

  • Exam/studies
  • Peer pressure
  • Fear of getting reprimanded by teacher/parents (in children)
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Job-related issues
  • Marital discord (in adults)

The affected person should be taken to a counselor/psychiatrist/neurologist for evaluation and proper diagnosis.

Effects of Stress Related Memory Loss:

• Chronic stress and subsequent memory loss has a bearing on the affected person’s immediate circle of relationships too. The person is unable to fulfill the responsibilities as father/mother, husband/wife, sibling, colleague, and employee.

• The person is irritable and it could get worse with forgetfulness.

• The person loses interest in sex and other pleasurable activities, giving cause for marital discord and divorce/separation.

• At work, the persons lag behind and may lose the job.

Memory loss arising from shock vs memory loss from long-term trauma:

Effects of acute stress or shock on memory differ from that of long-term stressful events.

• Acute stress or shock is a sudden onset brief event and the physiological changes are not ongoing, whereas in long-term stress, the physiological changes persist for longer duration.

• Acute stress can have mixed effects on memory. Some studies report better memory after a brief stress. However, for this to happen, the context for stress and desired Memory should be regarding the same topic.

• Shock also has a specific influence on Memory. Most people are not able to recall the events that happened just prior to the shock; however, they are able to remember the place/details regarding the shock itself.

• Long-term stress has more negative influence on Memory. Children who are victims of abuse or bullying have difficulty in learning and perform poorly at school. This effect may persist in their adulthood too.

• People who are under chronic stress also find it difficult to adapt to new situations.

Manifestations of stress-induced memory loss in children and adults:

The pattern of stress-induce memory loss differs in children and adults. In infants and children, the grain is not fully developed and hence any effect of stress can have long-lasting effects.

Studies have shown that children who experienced prolonged stress during infancy/early childhood developed memory loose and cognitive difficulties starting in middle age (similar to that occurring in the very elderly).

In adults, stress affects mainly the new learning ability and working memory; the long-term memory may be relatively spared.

Stress-induced memory loss temporary or permanent?

This depends on the type of stress and the duration of stress. Typically, after a short-term stress, memory loss is mild and temporary and one can expect a complete improvement.

However, after long-term stress, memory can be chronically impaired. This is because, prolonged presence of cortisol (as seen with prolonged stress) can cause severe damage to the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex – brain parts most essential for good memory functions.

Memory loss due to stress can occur in all ages, it is somewhat more severe in children. Therefore, every attempt should be made to reduce stress, and prevent it from becoming chronic.

SOURCE: B-Positive Health Magazine

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