The influence of negative life events on hippocampal and amygdala volumes in old age: a life-course perspective

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Abstract

Background.

Psychosocial stress has been related to changes in the nervous system, with both adaptive and maladaptive consequences. The aim of this study was to examine the relationship of negative events experienced throughout the entire lifespan and hippocampal and amygdala volumes in older adults.

Method.

In 466 non-demented old adults (age range 60-96 years, 58% female), hippocampal and amygdala volumes were segmented using Freesurfer. Negative life events and the age at which these events occurred were assessed by means of a structured questionnaire. Using generalized linear models, hippocampal and amygdala volumes were estimated with life events as independent variables. The statistical analyses were adjusted for age, gender, intracranial volume, lifestyle factors, cardiovascular risk factors, depressive symptoms, and cognitive functioning.

Results.

Total number of negative life events and of late-life events, but not of early-life, early-adulthood, or middle-adulthood events, was related to larger amygdala volume. There were interactions of early-life events with age and gender. Participants who reported two or more early-life events had significantly smaller amygdala and hippocampal volumes with increasing age. Furthermore, smaller hippocampal volume was found in men who reported two or more early-life events, but not in women.

Conclusions.

These results suggest that the effect of negative life events on the brain depends on the time when the events occurred, with the strongest effects observed during the critical time periods of early and late life.

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