The relation of salivary cortisol to patterns of performance on a word list learning task in healthy older adults

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2008 Oct;33(9):1293-6. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.07.007. Epub 2008 Sep 6.


A pattern of performance on a word list learning task known as a reduced primacy effect has been shown to be characteristic of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and can distinguish AD from depression. Deficits in memory and hippocampal atrophy seen in AD have been associated with hypercortisolism. The present study evaluated whether the reduced primacy effect is associated with elevated salivary cortisol in a sample of 40 healthy older community-dwelling adults participating in a study of memory and stress. We found that primacy, but not recency, was associated with higher salivary cortisol levels. In addition, participants who showed a reduced primacy had higher salivary cortisol levels than those with a normal serial position curve. Results suggest that there may be value to examining both serial position curves and changes to cortisol patterns over time as potential predictors of cognitive decline in healthy older adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Area Under Curve
  • Blood Pressure
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Proactive Inhibition
  • Reference Values
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology
  • Saliva / metabolism*
  • Serial Learning / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*


  • Hydrocortisone