Hormones don’t appear to play fairly between men and women when it comes to brain health. For women, stressful life experiences in middle age may lead to faster memory decline and disability, researchers have found.

They found no association between stressful or traumatic events and memory decline in men.

In a study of more than 900 Baltimore residents, midlife women who experienced a greater number of stressful life experiences were more likely to show a decline in word recall and recognition a decade after those events than those who had fewer stressful midlife experiences. 

The findings support evidence that stress hormones may play an uneven gender role in brain health, and suggest that stress reduction interventions may help prevent cognitive decline in women, wrote Cynthia Munro, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. If future research pinpoints stress as a cause of cognitive decline, strategies that combat or moderate the body’s chemical reactions to stress may prevent or delay onset of cognitive decline, she reported.

“We can’t get rid of stressors, but we might adjust the way we respond to stress, and have a real effect on brain function as we age,” Munro explained.