Rationale: Holocaust survivors with PTSD appear to show an accelerated aging effect as evidenced by their performance on tests of explicit memory, and also show more exaggerated patterns on age-related alterations in cortisol release over the diurnal cycle than Holocaust survivors without PTSD and nonexposed subjects. To investigate the implications of age-related HPA axis alterations on cognition, we examined correlations between parameters reflecting circadian cortisol release and implicit and explicit memory performance.
Methods: Nineteen Holocaust survivors with PTSD (7 men, 12 women), 16 Holocaust survivors without PTSD (7 men, 9 women), and 28 non-exposed healthy comparison subjects (13 men, 15 women) collected salivary samples at six times over the diurnal cycle, and were tested with Paired Associates and Word Stem Completion Tests.
Results: Negative correlations were observed between several measures of salivary cortisol concentrations and explicit memory in Holocaust survivors with PTSD after adjusting for IQ, years of education and current age reflecting poorer performance in association with higher cortisol levels. This relationship was absent in Holocaust survivors without PTSD and in demographically-comparable subjects who were not exposed to the Holocaust or other extremely traumatic events.
Conclusion: The significantly different relationship between cortisol and memory performance in these groups suggests that the neuropsychological impairments observed in Holocaust survivors with PTSD may reflect an interaction of PTSD and aging effects.