A recent study carried out by Sonia Lupien's team at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS) of the Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital, in affiliation with Universite de Montreal, showed that when faced with a stressful situation, memory, and especially among older adults, can be affected in a very rapid manner.
"We know that when a situation is new, unpredictable, uncontrollable or threatening to the ego, it leads to the production of stress hormones," explained Shireen Sindi, lead author of the study and PhD candidate at the CSHS.
These same hormones also have the capacity to reach the brain and to generate acute memory disorders, especially in older adults, "We have shown that when older adults are assessed under stressful conditions, they produce stress hormones that reduce their memory," continued Sindi.
Within the scope of this research project, the memory of older adults was tested in conditions similar to those in which their cognitive examinations in hospital or university settings usually take place: they had to go to an unfamiliar place that was not easily accessible and at times during the day that did not suit them.
The results of \Sindi's study show that such conditions induce a stress response and reduce the performance of older adults on memory tests.
Hence, it is possible that the conclusions of examinations carried out in a stressful context may resemble those reached in the presence of an underlying disorder, such as Alzheimer's.
In fact, the results obtained are only due to the stress generated by medical settings. An interesting fact is that when these same examinations take place in conditions with which older adults are familiar, their memory performance is no different from that of young adults.
On the basis of these results, the CSHS team questioned over 150 older people, asking them to describe the situations they find stressful when they have to go to various medical environments.