Background In the aging process, the cumulative exposure to stress with increased cortisol levels is considered to be associated to the senescence itself and its related disorders. Aims To evaluate the role of cortisol in elderly subjects, with or without dementia, by the means of the AGICO study. Methods The AGICO study enrolled patients from ten Geriatric Units in Italy in 2012-2017 (Study Director Prof Paolo Falaschi, S. Andrea Hospital of Rome). Every subject received a comprehensive geriatric assessment (including the Mini-Mental State Examination, MMSE), the neurological examination (with a computed tomography scan or magnetic resonance imaging of the brain), the assessment of the metabolic syndrome (MetS), the evaluation of the cortisol activity by two consecutive urine collections (diurnal and nocturnal). Results The MMSE was inversely related to the standardized diurnal and nocturnal urinary cortisol levels (p < 0.025 and p < 0.01, respectively) and the age was positively related (p < 0.01 and p < 0.001, respectively). The ratio between the standardized diurnal and nocturnal urinary cortisol levels was 1.50 +/- 1.2 (mean +/- standard deviation) and it was not modified by the age or dementia. The standardized diurnal and nocturnal urinary cortisol levels were significantly higher in patients with dementia (MMSE < 24) (p < 0.01). In the analysis of the subgroups with MetS, the highest concentrations of diurnal and nocturnal cortisol were found in patients with both dementia and MetS (p < 0.025 and p < 0.01, respectively). Discussion The AGICO study showed that the stress response significantly and progressively increases with age. Conclusion The cortisol increase in aging is related to the presence of both dementia and metabolic syndrome.
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