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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2005 Oct;30(9):826-38.

Physiological correlates of cognitive functioning in an elderly population.

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Psychobiology Group, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, UK.


Cognitive decline in old age is not universal or inevitable. Associations have been observed with neuroendocrine function, but the relevance of other physiological processes is unclear. We predicted that impairment of memory in an ageing population would be related to the dysregulation of neuroendocrine and cardiovascular responses. One hundred and thirty-nine participants (65-80 years) were recruited from general practice in London. Two standardised verbal paired-associates recall tasks were administered in order to determine declarative memory performance, and a fluid intelligence task (matrix reasoning) was also performed. Salivary cortisol samples were collected every 10 min, while blood pressure and heart rate were measured before, during and after each task. Illness history and medication use were obtained from medical records. Multiple linear regression analysis, adjusted for age, gender, education, chronic illness, and medication use, revealed that cortisol responses were inversely related to memory performance. Additionally, superior memory was associated with more effective post-task recovery of heart rate (in both men and women) and diastolic blood pressure recovery in men. Cardiovascular recovery effects were independent of covariates, and of levels of heart rate and blood pressure measured during tasks themselves. These associations were also independent of subjective ratings of stress and perceived performance. Neither neuroendocrine nor cardiovascular responses were related to performance of the reasoning task. We conclude that memory in the elderly is associated both with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical function and cardiovascular regulation. Disturbances of neuroendocrine and hemodynamic function may be related to greater vulnerability to cognitive decline.

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