Study shows that poor stress management during quarantine may accelerate cognitive decline

  • Stress levels related to prolonged confinement may increase the risk of cognitive impairment in seniors.

A prolonged state of stress can cause alterations in our mental health. This is very relevant, as the population is living a period of almost constant mental alarm. Therefore, after analyzing the current situation and contrasting different studies, CogniFit’s science and neuropsychology experts believe that this situation could increase the risk of cognitive impairment, especially in seniors, since COVID-19 represents a greater threat to their health. The CogniFit neuroscientific team warns that mental health clinics must be prepared for the post-quarantine period.

Study shows that poor stress management during quarantine may accelerate cognitive decline

Specifically, as David Asensio, Neuropsychologist and CogniFit’s Science Director points out:

When we live through a high stress period, certain structural alterations in the brain and a deficit in short-term memory can arise”.

Since the beginning of the quarantine, we have detected a negative variation in the performance of certain cognitive abilities among our users.

Comparing the average scores of users over 50 years of age, before the COVID19 alarm state, with the last month, it can be seen that the scores of certain cognitive skills, such as hand-eye coordination, focused attention, short-term memory and working memory, have dropped between 8% and 12% in a representative sample of 126,000 CogniFit users. This suggests that this state of alarm may indeed have an impact on our brain. However, more time and research are needed to know if these changes are sustained over a long period of time.

The uncertainty of this situation and the sudden change in our lives has not only disrupted routines but have also affected part of the population, causing insomnia, irritability and increased cortisol levels due to stress.

Over the years, in most cases, our brain tends to reduce its performance. Therefore, situations such as the one we are currently experiencing could lead to a greater sensitivity to cognitive problems among people with a higher risk of deterioration. 

Perceived stress is a changeable risk factor for cognitive impairment.

The positive side of this situation is, as Msc. Asensio points out:

“Stress is a changeable risk factor for cognitive decline. Therefore, it is important that people carry out appropriate interventions and cognitive stimulation tasks. The goal is to try to mitigate the possible impact of stress on our brain.”

To do this, the CogniFit science department places special emphasis on the fact that now, we must carry out activities focused on working on our neuroplasticity. In addition, the science team is hopeful and believes that the first step is to become aware of the effects that prolonged stress has on our minds. Ideally, on the advice of a professional, we should follow the appropriate treatment and a specific cognitive stimulation plan adapted to our specific needs.

References

Diehl, M., & Hay, E. L. (2010). Risk and resilience factors in coping with daily stress in adulthood: The role of age, self-concept incoherence, and personal control. Developmental Psychology, 46(5), 1132–1146. Study.

De Kloet, E. R., Joëls, M, & Holsboer, F. (2005) Stress and the brain: from adaptation to disease. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 6,pp.463-475. Study.

Sapolsky, R. M. (1992). Stress, the aging brain, and the mechanisms of neuron death. The MIT Press. Book.

De Kloet, E. R. (2003) Hormones, brain and stress. Endocr Regul, 37(2),pp.51-68. Study.

Bremmer, J. D. (1999) Does stress damage the brain? Biological Psychiatry, 45(7),pp.797-805. Study.

Sapolsky, R. M. (1996) Why stress is bad for your brain. Science, 273(5276),pp.749-750. Study.

Bremner, J. D., Scott, T. M., Delaney, R. C., Southwick, S. M., Mason, J. W., Johnson, D. R., Innis, R. B., McCarthy, G., & Charney, D. S. (1993). Deficits in short-term memory in posttraumatic stress disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 150(7), 1015–1019. Study.

Vedhara, K. Hyde, J. Gilchrist, I.D., Tytherleigh, M., & Plummer, S. (2000) Acute stress memory, attention and cortisol. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 25(6), pp.535-549. Study.

Schmidt MV, Trümbach D, Weber P, Wagner K, Scharf SH, Liebl C, Datson N, Namendorf C, Gerlach T, Kühne C, Uhr M, Deussing JM, Wurst W, Binder EB, Holsboer F, & Müller MB (2010) Individual stress vulnerability is predicted by short-term memory and AMPA receptor subunit ratio in the hippocampus. J Neurosci 30:16949–16958. Study.

H.J. Cho, V.S. Sajja, P.J. Vandevord, & Y.W. Lee (2013) Blast induces oxidative stress, inflammation, neuronal loss and subsequent short-term memory impairment in rats. Neuroscience, 253, pp. 9-20. Study.

Hackett, R. A. & Steptoe (2017) Type 2 diabetes mellitus and psychological stress – a modifiable risk factor. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 13, pp.547-560. Study.