A study conducted recently and published in The Journal of Neuroscience has revealed a possible relationship between cortisol- a hormone that your body produces in large quantities when experiencing stress- and lapses in memory among older folks.

The researchers who conducted the study noted that older rats aged 21 months (roughly the biological equivalent to a 65 year old human) with high cortisol levels had difficulty navigating a maze which required the use of short-term memory.

When the researchers examined tissue samples taken from the pre-frontal cortexes of the rats’ brains they noted that the older rats with high levels of cortisol had significantly fewer synapses than the rats from other groups and the synapses that were present were noticeable smaller. Just to be clear, increased levels of cortisol are not necessarily a bad thing. The hormone helps us to be more alert during tense situations.

However, as is usually the case, having heightened levels of cortisol over a long period of time can lead to a lot of issues including increased body weight, high blood pressure, indigestion, irritability and according to this study: short term memory loss.

Researchers have concluded that elevated cortisol levels slowly eat away synapses located within the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This is the area of the brain that manages short-term memory. Put another way, synapses in our brain are literally the connections that help us process and store information. As we age the cortisol works to erode those synapses and eventually they are destroyed.

A good analogy might be a spider’s web. The delicate threads create a beautiful and exotic web but a sand storm, hail or strong winds could destroy the connective threads and the web is ruined.

Now imagine the web represents short-term memories and synapses are the connective threads and you’ll see the potential effects of too much cortisol on your system as the hormone tears the “web” apart.

While this is just one study, we should consider the possibility that people with unusually high levels of cortisol- such as soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or even somebody suffering from depression for an extended length of time are at risk of damaging their brain’s ability to retain short-term memories. It is not always easy to reduce stress in our lives but it is advisable to be proactive and take steps to reduce cortisol levels in our bodies.

The good news is that there are many legitimate and safe ways to relieve ourselves of mild to major depression. A quick search online will provide you a variety of suggestions for dealing with depression such as breathing techniques, vigorous exercises, meditation, light therapy and simply talking about problems and concerns with a friend or loved one. Natural remediesfor depression include omega 3 oils, Vitamin B complex, 5-HTP/tryptophan, magnesium, psychobiotics (probiotics for psychological conditions) and more.

To improve memory, best to find a treatment method that works for you to reduce chronic stress and depression. You will be happier, healthier and ultimately improve your quality of life during your later years.