Published:  2005-05-01

Socioeconomic position and cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses following cognitive challenge in old age

Authors:  Andrew Steptoe, Sabine R Kunz-Ebrecht, Caroline Wright, Pamela J. Feldman

Tags:  Ageing, Blood pressure, Cognitive testing, Cortisol, Heart rate, Recovery, Socioeconomic status

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Social disparities in health persist into old age, and differences in psychophysiological responsivity may contribute to this pattern. We assessed whether higher socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with attenuated cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses elicited by cognitive tasks in old age. We tested 132 community-dwelling men and women aged 65–80 years, divided on the basis of educational attainment into higher and lower SES groups, and compared them with 26 higher educated participants aged 27–42 years. Blood pressure, hemodynamic variables and salivary cortisol were assessed in response to the performance of three cognitive tasks, and then during recovery. Older groups showed smaller heart rate and larger cortisol changes than younger participants. Post-task recovery in heart rate, stroke volume, pre-ejection period, and systolic blood pressure was greatest in the younger group, least in the older/lower education group, and intermediate in the older/higher education group. SES did not influence the increased cortisol responsivity of older participants. The results are consistent with the notion that higher SES protects against age-related changes in cardiovascular response profiles, particularly during recovery.