Testosterone levels and cognition in elderly men: a review

Maturitas. 2011 Aug;69(4):322-37. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2011.05.012. Epub 2011 Jun 21.


Average testosterone levels and many cognitive functions show a decline with age. There is evidence to suggest that this association is not just age related. Results from cell culture and animal studies provide convincing evidence that testosterone could have protective effects on brain function. Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterised by brain pathology affecting cognitive function and AD prevalence increases with age. Testosterone levels are lower in AD cases compared to controls, and some studies have suggested that low free testosterone (FT) may precede AD onset. Men with AD may show accelerated endocrinological ageing, characterised by an earlier lowering of thyroid stimulating hormone, an earlier increase in sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), a subsequent earlier decrease in FT and an earlier increase in gonadotropin levels in response to this. Positive associations have been found between testosterone levels and global cognition, memory, executive functions and spatial performance in observational studies. However, non-significant associations were also reported. It may be that an optimal level of testosterone exists at which some cognitive functions are improved. This may be modified with an older age, with a shifting of the optimal testosterone curve to maintain cognition to the left and a lower optimal level thus needed to be beneficial for the brain. Genetic factors, such as APOE and CAG polymorphisms may further interact with testosterone levels in their effects on cognition. The roles of SHBG, gonadotropins, thyroid hormones and estrogens in maintaining cognitive function and preventing dementia in men are also not completely understood and should be investigated further. Hypogonadal men do not seem to benefit from testosterone supplementation but small scale, short term intervention studies in eugonadal men with and without cognitive impairments have shown promising results. Larger randomised, controlled trials are needed to further investigate testosterone treatment in protecting against cognitive decline and/or dementia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / blood
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Dementia / blood*
  • Dementia / prevention & control
  • Endocrine System / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Testosterone / blood*
  • Testosterone / therapeutic use


  • Testosterone