Background: Testosterone levels decline as men age, as does cognitive function. Whether there is more than a temporal relationship between testosterone and cognitive function is unclear. Chemical castration studies in men with prostate cancer suggest that low serum testosterone may be associated with cognitive dysfunction. Low testosterone levels have also been observed in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This paper reviews the current clinical evidence of the relationship between serum testosterone levels and cognitive function in older men.
Methods: A systematic literature search was conducted using PubMed and EMBASE to identify clinical studies and relevant reviews that evaluated cognitive function and endogenous testosterone levels or the effects of testosterone substitution in older men.
Results: Low levels of endogenous testosterone in healthy older men may be associated with poor performance on at least some cognitive tests. The results of randomized, placebo-controlled studies have been mixed, but generally indicate that testosterone substitution may have moderate positive effects on selective cognitive domains (e.g. spatial ability) in older men with and without hypogonadism. Similar results have been found in studies in patients with existing AD or MCI.
Conclusions: Low endogenous levels of testosterone may be related to reduced cognitive ability, and testosterone substitution may improve some aspects of cognitive ability. Measurement of serum testosterone should be considered in older men with cognitive dysfunction. For men with both cognitive impairment and low testosterone, testosterone substitution may be considered. Large, long-term studies evaluating the effects of testosterone substitution on cognitive function in older men are warranted.