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Effects of hydrocortisone administration on cognitive function in the elderly

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Richard Porter, Elizabeth McGuckin, Professor John O'Brien


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Previous studies have found adverse effects of both acute and chronic elevations of corticosteroids on cognitive function in humans and that cortisol levels may predict cognitive decline in elderly subjects. However, no previous studies have directly investigated the effects of hydrocortisone on cognitive functioning in the healthy elderly. Sixteen healthy elderly subjects took part in a placebo-controlled, double-blind, cross-over trial. Hydrocortisone 20 mg or placebo was administered twice, 12 h and 1 h before cognitive testing. On each occasion, a battery of neuropsychological tests was performed which included tests of attention, working memory, declarative memory and executive function. Salivary cortisol levels at the time of testing were elevated approximately 10-fold following hydrocortisone compared with placebo. No significant effects were found on memory or a range of other cognitive functions. The lack of effect of this regime of hydracortisone is in contrast to studies in younger subjects. The elderly may be less sensitive to cognitive effects of short-term increases in cortisol levels, possibly due to an age-related downregulation of hippocampal glucocorticoid receptors.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Porter RJ; O'Brien JT; McGuckin EA; Barnett NA; Idey A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Psychopharmacology

Year: 2002

Volume: 16

Issue: 1

Pages: 65-71

ISSN (print): 0269-8811

ISSN (electronic): 1461-7285

Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd.


DOI: 10.1177/026988110201600106


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