Distress and negative emotions lead to memory problems

According to the latest research people who are easily distressed and have more negative emotions are more likely to develop memory problems than more easygoing types.

A new study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, has found that people who most often experience negative emotions such as depression and anxiety were 40 percent more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those who were least prone to negative emotions.

Experts say mild cognitive impairment, where people experience mild memory or cognitive problems, but have no significant disability, is a transitional stage between normal aging and dementia.

The researchers examined the results of previous research which involved 1,256 people with no cognitive impairment and found in the 12 years of follow-up, that 482 people developed mild cognitive impairment.

An evaluation process was devised which asked questions regarding the participants susceptibility to distress and negative emotions such as "I am not a worrier," "I often feel tense and jittery," and "I often get angry at the way people treat me."

Dr. Robert S. Wilson, the study's author says people differ in how they tend to experience and handle negative emotions and psychological distress, and the way people respond tends to stay the same throughout their adult lives.

Dr. Wilson says the findings suggest that, over a lifetime, chronic experience of stress affects the area of the brain that governs stress response and unfortunately, that is also the part of the brain that regulates memory.

In an earlier study Wilson and his colleagues found that people who are easily distressed are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than more easygoing people.

Wilson says there are several factors which suggest to researchers that a proneness to stress is a risk factor for memory problems and not an early sign of disease.

It seems that while the level of distress does not appear to increase in old age, the changes in the brain related to memory problems and Alzheimer's disease do increase with age.

This latest research suggests that chronic stress may harm parts of the brain responsible for responding to stress and might lead to early treatments, such as promoting exercise to reduce stress or drug therapy for depression.

Wilson says this could lead to new strategies to delay the symptoms of the disease.

This research was published in the June 12, 2007, issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology and was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

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