Stress and Memory Loss

  Stress and Memory Loss Emily Halevy | CWK Network
  “I think it’s kind of validating that it’s not just ‘Oh, we’re crazy and scattered,’ but there’s really a reason why we tend to lose it a bit when we are overstressed and overscheduled.”

– Dr. Marla Shapiro, psychologist –

  Related Information What Parents Need To Know Resources

Some teens do poorly on exams, not because they don’t know the answers, but because they’re nervous. “A lot of times, I’ll, like, stay up really late, and we’ll do flash cards or whatever, and then when it comes time for the test I’ll just sort of forget,” says 14-year-old Alix. Sixteen-year-old Reed Gott has seen it too. “A lot of times people get stressed out, and they just totally, like, bomb a test.”

According to a recent study in the journal Science, the culprit is an enzyme called PKC, or protein kinase C. Under stress, this protein in the brain causes short-term memory loss. “Unpredicted stress or unexpected events over which we have no control can activate levels of PKC and cause some of the forgetfulness and the scatteredness that we all feel when we’re really stressed,” explains psychologist Marla Shapiro.

She explains that with everything teens are expected to do, tests, papers, applying to college, add to that jobs, sports, activities and a social life, they can forget things often. Just like Jermeen Sherman, “Taking multiple AP classes or hard classes can be stressful, and I think sometimes that’s my problem, like I have too much work to do, and you try to do it all, and you lack somewhere.”

Shapiro says the best ways to overcome stress are good study skills, plenty of sleep, and if the student still draws a blank, “physically remove yourself from the situation, and take some slow deep breaths. The more they stare at that test paper, the more helpless they’re gonna feel.”
By Amye Walters
CWK Network, Inc.

Stressful situations in which the individual has no control were found to activate an enzyme in the brain called protein kinase C. The enzyme impairs short-term memory and other functions in the prefrontal cortex, the executive-decision part of the brain. This part of the brain allows abstract reasoning, and it uses working memory that is constantly updated.

PKC is active in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. In fact, an initial psychotic episode can be precipitated by a stressful situation, such as going away to college for the first time or joining the military. Since it affects the prefrontal cortex, PKC could be a factor in the distractibility, impulsiveness and impaired judgment that occurs in some mental illnesses.

  • This new knowledge of PKC could point the way to better treatments for such illnesses as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
  • Finding that uncontrolled stress activates PKC indicates a possible new direction for treatments. Pharmaceutical companies might look to drugs that inhibit PKC.
  • Very low levels of lead can activate PKC, and this may lead to impaired regulation of behavior. These findings could help doctors understand the impulsivity and distractibility observed in children with lead poisoning.
  • Scientists think the link between stress and memory loss evolved as a protective mechanism in the event of danger. For example, in dangerous conditions it helps to be distractible, to hear every little sound and react rapidly and instinctually.
By Amye Walters
CWK Network, Inc.

Experts say today’s children are experiencing anxieties at earlier ages. Stress can affect anyone, even children, regardless of age. Proper rest and good nutrition can help increase a child’s ability to cope with stress. It’s also important to make time for your child each day. Even as your child ages, “quality time” is important. By showing interest in your child throughout his or her life, you show that your child is important to you. Also, be sure to talk to your child about what causes stress in his or her life. Learning to relax is yet another way to combat stress.

Stress doesn’t have to be traumatic to lead to memory impairment. If one feels out of control, memory loss can occur. Control is the essential factor. When you are confident, you don’t have problems with memory.

  • A child’s stresses are not limited to their own lives. If adult conversations, like office or financial troubles, are overheard, a child may experience stress.
  • Stress raises kids’ risk for insomnia, skin disorders, headaches, upset stomach, depression and possibly obesity.
  • Signs that your teen might be stressed include: frequent headaches, stomachaches and trouble handling anger.
  • Signs that your pre-schooler or elementary student might be stressed include: sudden or extreme shyness, excessive irritability and bedwetting after months or years of dry nights.
  • Click here to find relaxing breathing exercises .


Family Weight Loss

Education Feature
Family Weight Loss

By Robert Seith
CWK Network Senior Producer


I wouldn’t want my son to ever think about me as the person that’s making him do something that they wouldn’t do themselves..
– Mike Drake, whose son Dalton is trying to lose weight and get in shape. –

One month ago, 13-year-old Dalton Drake weighed 201 pounds.

“Some kids talk about me at school and stuff,” he says. “I don’t want to be the overweight kid.”

So he started working out on a two-mile trail, first walking and then jogging. All along the way, his dad sets the pace, running right alongside his son.

“I’d probably do less if he wasn’t doing it with me,” admits Dalton.

“A parent is the biggest role model a child can have,” says weight loss specialist Dr. Lonny Horowitz. “If they set the role of going out and doing exercise with their kids, their kids are going to want to emulate them.”

According to American Dietetic Association, however, only six percent of parents exercise with their kids.

“I think that’s a real problem, and probably a major contributor to the obesity that we’re starting to see now in our kids,” says Dr. Horowitz.

Experts say it’s as obvious as it is rare. If children see parents exercising and eating healthy foods every day, it’s almost automatic that the children will do the same. It’s important to begin slowly, though, Dr. Horowitz advises. Start by cutting out some of the sweets and fatty foods, and then begin taking short walks together.

“And then you make the walk a little longer each time you do it,” says Dr. Horowitz.

So far, Dalton has lost 15 pounds. He says it won’t be long before he’s urging his dad to go faster, rather than the other way around.

By Larry Eldridge, Jr.
CWK Network, Inc.

Exercise research has shown the following:

  • Over 60 percent of American adults are not regularly active.
  • Twenty-five percent of adults are not active at all.
  • Only 19 percent of high school students are active for 20 minutes or more per day.
  • Men are more active than women.
  • Physical activity declines with age.
  • Ethnic minorities are less active.
  • Higher education and income are associated with more leisure-time activity.
  • Obese people are usually less active than non-obese persons.

The Surgeon General’s report on physical activity endorses a moderate amount of physical activity that can be obtained by doing any of the following:

  • Thirty minutes of brisk walking
  • Thirty minutes of lawn mowing
  • Thirty minutes of leaf raking
  • Fifteen minutes of running
  • Forty-five minutes of volleyball

By Larry Eldridge, Jr.
CWK Network, Inc.

Not only does exercise keep bodies healthy and help to prevent diseases, it is also important because it can help keep minds sharp and healthy. Experts at KidsHealth have developed the following list of the benefits of exercising.

  • Exercise Makes Your Heart Happy – Your heart is one hardworking part, pumping blood every day of your life. The heart is a muscle, and it’s the strongest muscle in your body, but it’s always looking to become even stronger! Since lifting weights won’t help it get stronger, it relies on you to do aerobic exercise. It’s a good idea for kids to do some kind of aerobic exercise two or three times a week, for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Some excellent aerobic activities are swimming, basketball, ice or roller hockey, jogging (or walking quickly), rollerblading, soccer, cross-country skiing, biking and rowing. Even dancing, skipping, jumping rope and playing hopscotch are aerobic activities!
  • Exercise Makes Muscles – All the muscles in your body do a fine job when you use them for easy stuff, like picking up a book or walking down the stairs. But what about using them for harder stuff, like taking long bike rides or climbing a tree? That’s where exercise comes in. It makes your muscles stronger and sometimes larger. As your muscles get stronger, you can do more active things for longer periods of time. And strong muscles also help protect you from injuries when you exercise, because they give better support to your joints. Building up all different types of muscles is easy to do. For arm strength, try push-ups, pull-ups, tug-of-war or twirling a baton. Rowing in a rowboat or canoeing is great for building strong arm muscles as well. For strong leg muscles, try running, blading, skating and bike riding. And for strong stomach muscles, try sit-ups, bike riding, or even twirling a hula hoop around your waist.
  • Exercise Makes You Flexible – Can you touch your toes easily? Most kids are pretty flexible, which means that they can bend and stretch their bodies without too much trouble. But as people get older they tend to get less flexible, so that’s why it’s important to exercise when you’re a kid – so you can stay flexible. Plus, when you’re flexible, you can be more active without having to worry about getting sprains and strained muscles. It’s easy to find things to do for good flexibility. Tumbling and gymnastics are great ways to become more flexible. Yoga and dancing, especially ballet, also increase flexibility. Karate, tae kwon do and other martial arts are great for flexibility, too.
  • Exercise Keeps You at a Healthy Weight – Every time you eat food, your body does the same thing: it uses some of the nutrients in the food as fuel. It burns these nutrients to give us energy or calories. You need calories for all of your body’s functions, whether it’s things you think about doing, like brushing your teeth, or things you never think about doing, like breathing. So it’s important for kids to get all the calories they need from the foods they eat.But if the body isn’t able to useall the calories that are coming from food, it stores them away as fat. And that’s why exercise helps keep a child at a weight that’s right for his/her height, by burning up extra calories. When you exercise, your body uses that extra fuel to keep you going strong.
  • Exercise Makes You Feel Good – Exercising is a most excellent way to feel happy, whether you’re exercising on your own or with a group. If you’ve had a tough day at school, a fight with your friend or just feel kind of blue, exercising can help you feel better. That’s because when you exercise, your body can release endorphins, which are chemicals that create a happy feeling in your brain. Plus, when you’re breathing deeply during exercise and bringing more air into your lungs, your brain appreciates the extra oxygen. And when you’re active and running around, sometimes it’s hard to think about just what was bothering you. Exercise can make you feel better about yourself, too. When you are stronger and more capable of doing things, you can feel pretty proud – whether you scored the winning goal or hula-hooped for an hour straight!


National Association for Sport and Physical Education
American Heart Association


Summer Learning Loss

Education Feature
Summer Learning Loss
By Adam Wilkenfeld
CWK West Coast Bureau Chief

“If they can learn, and at the same time enjoy, then that’s what we’re after. Just the pleasure of learning.”
-Silvia Lucero, a mother-

For the Lucero boys, learning is year-round. When the school year ends, their father uses next year’s text to teach them math lessons at home.

“And he’d give us like maybe three-page tests on those, with like maybe 75 questions,” says Orlando, 16.

And during the summer, their mother gives them assigned reading and asks them to give written or oral book reports.

“It can be a hassle sometimes, but during school, it pays off on tests and everything,” 14-year-old Vidal says.

These boys won’t fall behind this summer, but many of their classmates and other students around the country will.

According to a study from the University of Missouri, many kids forget some of what they’ve learned, and by the end of summer, they lose, “over two and one-half months of grade-level equivalency in mathematics,” says Fran Chamberlain, director of an after-school program called KidsLit.

“Teachers are spending easily up to six weeks trying to review what had happened in previous years,” says David Payne, a former principal.

Payne, now the CEO of an after-school program called the Extreme Learning Center, says reading skills also lag. He tells parents to actually go to school and talk to the their children’s teacher before the end of classes. Ask the teacher what skills could your children benefit from practicing this summer, and find out what books might they read now that could keep them sharp and help them prepare for next year.

“A parent who knows that their child might be interested in a certain topic but reading a different grade level than the rest of the class can go find a book and engage their student over the summer and make great progress,” Payne says.

He also says that the key is to make learning fun, especially during the summer. The Lucero boys, for example, write out math problems on the dining room table … with shaving cream!

Their father, Frank Lucero, came up with that idea.

“I’ll take a look at the books, I’ll read through the chapters, pick out the particular problems and actually spend some time in analyzing how am I going to make this fun for the boys? What are we going to do this time? How do I keep it different?” he says.

This summer, the boys will have time for basketball and skateboarding, but only when the homework is done. Come fall, Orlando and Vidal will be ready.

“Everyone’s asking me, like, how do you do this, how do you do that? Like on the bus. And they practically have to relearn it all over again,” Vidal says.

Additional Research

Consider the following research collected by Ron Fairchild, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Summer Learning:

  • All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer vacation (Cooper, 1996).
  • On average, students lose approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Studies reveal that the greatest areas of summer loss for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, are in factual or procedural knowledge (Cooper, 1996).
  • Low-income children and youth experience greater summer learning losses than their higher income peers. On average, middle-income students experience slight gains in reading performance over the summer months. Low-income students experience an average summer learning loss in reading achievement of over two months (Cooper, 1996).
  • Summer learning loss contributes to the achievement gap in reading performance between lower and higher income children and youth. Research demonstrates that while student achievement for both middle and lower income students improves at similar rates during the school year, low-income students experience cumulative summer learning losses over the elementary school grades (Alexander & Entwisle, 1996).
  • Large numbers of students who qualify for federally subsidized meals do not have the same level of access to nutritious meals during the summer as they do during the school year. Only one in five (21.1 per 100) of the 15.3 million children who receive free or reduced priced school lunches on a typical day during the regular school year participate in federal nutrition programs during the summer (Food Research and Action Center, 2002).
  • Studies show that out-of-school time is a dangerous time for unsupervised children and teens. They are more likely to use alcohol, drugs and tobacco, engage in criminal and other high-risk behaviors, receive poor grades and drop out of school than those who have the opportunity to benefit from constructive activities supervised by responsible adults (Carnegie Council, 1994).

According to a study from the University of Missouri, during the summer break many students forget some of what they have learned throughout the school year. In fact, many lose “over two and one-half months of grade level equivalency in mathematics,” says Fran Chamberlain of the Developmental Studies Center.

As a parent, it is important for you to help your child retain the knowledge he or she has learned each year. Whether homework is assigned during the school year or as a “summer bridge” between grades, you can help your child get it done. In fact, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) says parents can help their children academically, even if homework is not assigned. The AFT describes home as “a child’s first school.” The organization recommends spending a little time each day on reading, writing and math activities.


The American Medical Association has some specific suggestions on ways you can help your child with homework:

  • Help your child get organized. It can be hard to schedule homework time into your child’s busy life, but that is exactly what you must do. Prioritizing homework tells your child that learning, reading and studying are important. If you need to, post a weekly calendar with slots for daily homework time.
  • Help your child find the right workspace. Where your child should do homework depends largely on his or her age. The workspace should be well lighted and supplied with pencils, paper, rulers and books so your child doesn’t waste time hunting for tools. The kitchen or dining room table is the most popular workspace for young children.
  • Let your child do the work. Young children in particular are accustomed to being helped with many tasks, so they naturally look to parents for help with homework. Remember that a primary goal of homework is to build responsibility. Here, yours is a supporting role as a parent – encouraging your child to think, evaluate and respond.
  • Help your child understand instructions, but then step back and let him or her work independently. It is important that you do not actually do the work because this denies your child an essential sense of achievement. Praise should be focused on your child’s effort rather than on “correct” or “incorrect.”
  • Be a parent, not a teacher. The most important role you can play is as a parent. It is important not to become the teacher at home. You can scan the assignment first to become familiar with it. That way, if your child has trouble finding the answer, you can offer a clue and then let your child find the answer. This approach helps build your child’s confidence that he or she can, indeed, do the work on his or her own. You should be ready with praise when the assignment is completed.
  • Make a final homework check before assignments are submitted. This not only gives you an indication of your child’s ability, but it also keeps you up-to-date on what he or she is studying. If you do find errors, don’t criticize. If your child is really struggling, send a note to the teacher pointing out the difficulties your child had with that assignment. By going over homework with your child, you can see whether there are any problems that need to be addressed.

The AFT also recommends that you reward your child for work well done or for trying hard, even when he or she makes mistakes. The rewards don’t have to cost money. A hug, or a smile and some words of praise can mean more than candy or a toy.


American Federation of Teachers
American Medical Association
Extreme Learning Center
Johns Hopkins University Center for Summer Learning