Stress and Memory Loss

By M. Chris Wolf, PH.D.

STRESS is a fact of life.

Stress and memory loss are intertwined. We live in an ever increasingly complex world which taxes our coping resources. The notion that anyone would ever be completely tension free is a fallacy.

We all know that severe tension can impact our immune systems and even contribute to an untimely death.

Prolonged tension and pressure can contribute to various health related problems such as cancer, pain, stomach ailments, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

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Stress and memory loss are involved in trauma. Tension and agony following trauma is common and is known as PTSD if it last greater than 30 days. Health professionals call it Acute Stress Reaction (ASR) when it last for 30 days or less following a traumatic event.

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Most of us can understand how memory loss, dementia or a brain injury of any kind may cause us agony.

BUT can tension and life pressures cause memory loss?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) memory processes can be significantly impacted by negative life experiences. Tension and pressures of life can affect how we encode, store and retrieve information.

You may have had the experience of preparing for a big test or important job interview. Did the experience affect your memory?

Of course it did!Stress and memory loss live together.

If you had an optimum amount of discomfort, you were performing at a peak level. We think of this as the "good tension".

However, you may have had the experience of being very well prepared for a test or job interview and became tongue tied and forgetful. During a test your mind may have "gone blank" for important things that you had mastered when preparing for the exam.

These are examples of how short-term memory can be affected by pressure and tension in our environment.

According to various scientific research, excessive tension and life pressures in the short-term or over time, can be highly detrimental to memory functioning.

Some research has indicated that prolonged tension can impact the hippocampus. As you may have noted elsewhere on our website, the hippocampus is a brain structure very involved with he processing of memory.

See Neuroplasticity

When we experience tension as a student the encoding of memories into our brains can be interfered with.

Later when we attempt to recall the information, it is difficult to access in part, because it was never fully processed into memory to begin with.

Recently, neuroscientists working with animals have discovered the potential role of the Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule (NCAM).

NCAM has been implicated in the process of how memory is stored in the hippocampus of our brains.

These NCAM molecules have been shown to be sensitive to life's tensions and pressure.

Researchers have found that the suppression of NCAM levels found in the hippocampus may also contribute to impaired long-term storage and recall processes of memory.

Some preliminary research with lower animals (rats and cats) has indicated that males are more susceptible to memory impairment under tension situations than females. Perhaps women really are the stronger sex!

Other research has suggested that exposure to tension and pressure early in life may emerge in midlife affecting the hippocampus.

Research in these areas and more is ongoing and the results are preliminary.However, there is little doubt that life tension and pressures can in fact have a profound impact on memory and learning.

Consider Vitamins to Reduce Effects of Stress

For more information on how stress and memory loss can affect you consider these sources:

The American Institute of Stress

National Geographic: Stress - Portrait of a Killer (2008) Rated: NR | Format: DVD

emWave Personal Stress Reliever by HeartMath

For more information in-depth on this topic visit:

Improve My Memory

Handling Stress

Stress Reduction Techniques - For Caregivers

Return from Stress and Memory Loss to Brain Injury


Memory loss Facts

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