People who have been stressed over a long period, through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or stressful jobs or marriages, suffer cognitive decline which is symptomised by poor memory and diminished problem solving.
Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York think they know why. A psychiatrist treating CEOs from Wall Street after 9/11 for depression realised that they were actually suffering from PTSD.
When he scanned their brains he found that their hippcampuses had shrunk to a size normally only found in elderly people.
When you are stressed your body releases corticosteroids and the researchers think that these hormones may be toxic to the brain if released in high concentrations over long periods.
This theory is supported by research into war veterans with PTSD who showed signs of accelerated brain tissue loss (Journal of Neuroimaging) which suggested that “these patients will be at greater risk of cognitive impairment and dementia”.
There was also a study in Canada which found a link between chronic exposure to corticosteroids and cognitive decline.
I posted previously on the effects of religion on the brain which was surprising because people have always believed that religion has a positive effect on your well-being. However in the case of born-again believers it seems the stress element outweighed the positive aspects.
See also my post on Alzheimer’s