Stress Linked to Memory Impairment and Reduced Brain Size

By Annamaria Cavaleri ‘22

Figure 1. Magnetic resonance imaging scan being performed in a hospital.

Given the increased amount of stress present in modern life, cognitive aging is an issue that is attracting more attention. Recent studies conducted in the neurology department of UT Health San Antonio suggest that stress is directly related to memory impairment and reduced brain size in your middle age. Cortisol is a hormone linked to stress and this study demonstrated that having higher levels of cortisol in the morning is linked deficient brain structure and poor cognition (1).

In the current study, 2231 participants in the Framingham Heart Study underwent MRI scans to measure brain volume. The team, led by Dr. Seshardi, consisted of collaborators from universities all over the country. Blood serum cortisol, was measured in the early morning between 7:30 and 9:00 AM in each fasting participant . The participants were then given memory and other cognitive tasks to complete. Brain size shrinkage and memory loss were found in the study’s middle-age participants before symptoms of Alzheimers or dementia began. Adults in their 40s and 50s with higher cortisol levels performed worse on the memory and cognitive tasks than those with average blood cortisol levels. Higher cortisol was also linked with smaller brain volumes.

The faster pace of life in general today most likely causes an increased amount of stress in middle-aged adults. This study raises awareness of stress and the negative and its negative impacts on cognitive function. Further studies may be done to test ways in which stress may be reduced, such as getting a sufficient amount of sleep and exercising.



  1. University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Stress can impair memory, brain size in middle age. ScienceDaily 25 (2018).
  2. Image retrieved from:

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