Background: Many men older than 50 years have bioavailable testosterone levels below the reference range for young adult men. The impact of the decreased androgen levels on cognition and health perception has received little attention.
Methods: Sixty-seven men (mean age 76 +/- 4 years, range 65-87) with bioavailable testosterone levels below 128 ng/dl (lower limit for adult normal range) were randomized to receive transdermal testosterone (2-2.5 mg patches/d) or placebo patches for 1 year. All men received 500 mg supplemental calcium and 400 IU vitamin D. Outcome measures included sex hormones [testosterone, bioavailable testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), estradiol, and estrone], cognitive tests (Digit Symbol, Digit Span, Trailmaking A and B), health perception (Medical Outcome Survey Short-form 36 or SF-36), lower extremity muscle strength and power, and calcium intake.
Results: Twenty-three men (34%) withdrew from the study; 44 men completed the trial. Bioavailable testosterone levels increased from 93 +/- 34 (SD) to 162 +/- 100 ng/dl (p <.002) at 12 months in the testosterone group (n = 24) while no change occurred in the control group (n = 20). While there was no change in estradiol levels in either group, estrone levels increased in the testosterone group (28 +/- 7 to 32 +/- 9 pg/dl, p =.017). Scores on the Digit Symbol test improved in both the testosterone and placebo groups. Scores on Trailmaking B improved in men treated with testosterone (p <.005), although the changes were not statistically different from the changes seen in the placebo group. Twelve-month scores on Trailmaking B for the entire group were correlated with 12-month testosterone levels (p =.016). Scores for health perception measured by SF-36 did not change significantly, though scores of mental and general health declined in both groups during the 12-month intervention. Twelve-month bioavailable testosterone scores were directly correlated with scores for physical role (p =.022), vitality (p =.036), and the physical composite score (p =.010).
Conclusions: Transdermal testosterone treatment in men with low bioavailable testosterone levels does not impair and may improve cognitive function. Treatment did not improve health perception but this may have been due to the side effects of skin irritation suggested by similar reactions in both the testosterone and placebo groups.