Scientists claim to have discovered how stress can contribute to memory loss in old age.
University of Edinburgh researchers have shown how two receptors in older brains react to the stress hormone cortisol which has been linked to increasing forgetfulness as people age.
The study on older mice found that one receptor was activated by low levels of cortisol, which helped memory.
However, once levels of the hormone were too high they spilled over on to a second receptor, activating brain processes which contribute to memory loss.
When the receptor linked to poor memory was blocked, the memory recall problem was reversed.
Scientists say the discovery could lead to treatment for conditions such as early Alzheimer's.
Dr Joyce Yau, who led the study at the university's Centre for Cardiovascular Science, said: "While we know that stress hormones affect memory, this research explains how the receptors they engage with can switch good memory to poorly functioning memory in old age.
The research helps explain why too much stress over a prolonged period interferes with the normal processes in storing everyday memories, despite the fact that a little bit of stress can help people better remember emotional memories.
They hope this could be used to develop a drug treatment to slow the normal decline in memory associated with ageing, or even improve memory in people who are very old.