Approximately 30% of human and mammalian populations develop cognitive impairments with ageing. Many of these impairments have been linked to dysfunction of the hippocampus, a well studied area of the medial-temporal lobe, which is involved in episodic memory and control of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal stress axis and, thus, of glucocorticoid secretion. This paper reviews the growing body of studies which explore a possible relationship between lifetime exposure to glucocorticoids and hippocampal impairment. There is now strong evidence which associates hypercortisolemia in aged men with later cognitive dysfunction and this complements a wealth of rodent and other human data. We conclude with a discussion of possible pharmacological and behavioural interventions.
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