Wednesday, November 11, 2009
DOMINIC O'BRIEN: How stress can seriously harm your memory
Mislaying your car keys, climbing the stairs and wondering what for, making a cup of tea and forgetting to drink it - all signs that your memory is not quite up to speed.
Then there are all those PINs, passwords and other codes we must memorise. Surely life was less stressful a few years ago?
I have noticed that most of my clients coming to me for magical reversals of memory impairment lead highly stressful lives.
Researchers are now convinced that stress is one of the biggest factors contributing to memory impairment. Exposure to prolonged or excessive stress is highly damaging to memory.
Don't get me wrong, we need stress. As humans, not only are we well equipped to deal with it but without it, life would become drab. But numerous studies show that those with continuously high levels of the stress hormone cortisone perform poorly in memory tests. As a rule of thumb, if you allow yourself three to five years of over-exposure to stress, expect some form of deterioration in your memory. The good news is that memory impairment due to stress can be reversible.
The answer is to direct one's efforts at both reducing stress and stimulating the brain - with memory, it is a case of use it or lose it.
The more I memorise, the more capacity I feel I have to store information. Why should that be? The brain consists of billions of cells or neurons. Most of these cells are just floating around in a saline solution waiting to be stimulated so that they too can transmit and store data.
It's reasonable to suggest that the more of these cells that can be switched on, the greater the processing capability of the brain.
So what's my best advice? Exercise your memory regularly. Play games with it. Try to memorise ten playing cards, ten shopping items, ten names.