A new study has found that individuals with elevated stress levels are more likely to experience a decline in cognitive function, which can impact their ability to learn, concentrate, and remember things. Published in JAMA Network Open, the study revealed that even after accounting for uncontrolled cardiovascular risk factors and poor lifestyle factors, individuals with elevated stress levels were 37% more likely to have poor cognition. While stress is already known to take a physical toll on the body, increasing the risk of stroke, poor immune response, and unhealthy behaviors, this study highlights the potential impact of stress on cognitive abilities.
The study was conducted over a decade on thousands of participants who were asked to self-assess their stress levels and were surveyed for cognitive function. It focused on understanding disparities in brain health among Black people and those living in parts of the South known as the “stroke belt.” The findings suggest that managing stress may be crucial in maintaining cognitive function over time.
“The relationship between stress and cognitive function is a “vicious cycle,” said Dr. Amy Arnsten, a professor of neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine. “These stress-signaling pathways get released, and they rapidly impair the higher cognitive functions of the prefrontal cortex that includes things like working memory,” said Arnsten, who has researched how stress affects the brain. “With chronic stress, you lose gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, in sadly the exact regions that are involved with inhibiting the stress response and those areas that give you insight that you need help.”