Psychosocial stress and HPA functioning: no evidence for a reduced resilience in healthy elderly men.Stress 2000; 3(3):229-40S
In order to investigate if HPA functioning is altered with age, the present study was conducted. Fifteen healthy elderly men (60-76 years; mean age 66.5 +/- 1.48 yrs.) and 12 younger adults (20-29 years; mean age 25.6 +/- 0.77 yrs.) collected salivary free cortisol profiles after awakening for basal HPA activity. Then, all subjects were exposed to the "Trier Social Stress Test" (TSST). This psychosocial stress protocol consists of a free speech and a mental arithmetic task of 13 minutes duration performed in front of an audience. Beside the assessment of endocrine and cardiovascular responses to the stressful task ratings of depression, mood and perceived stressfulness were obtained. Results show that younger and elderly men had similar morning cortisol profiles after awakening with both groups showing the expected rise after awakening (P=0.004). The TSST induced significant increases in ACTH, total plasma cortisol, saliva free cortisol, and heart rates (all P<0.0001). Regardless of age, both age groups showed comparable endocrine response patterns when confronted with the stressor. However, cardiovascular responses were significantly higher in younger men compared to elderly men (P=0.03). Catecholamine data revealed significant norepinephrine and epinephrine increases due to the stressor (both P<0.0001) with a trend toward elevated norepinephrine levels in elderly men (P=0.058). In sum, the investigated basal and response parameters of HPA functioning neither support the idea of a reduced resilience in healthy aged humans nor do they appear to strengthen assumptions derived from the so called "glucocorticoid cascade hypothesis".