New findings suggest that an allostatic load may be used to interfere with early life adversity and global cognition, as well as executive function. This study was published in the scientific journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
I became particularly interested in life course models of cognitive aging, as more research is demonstrating that age-related cognitive decline and risk of dementia can be avoided and detected decades before older adulthood. I am particularly interested in early life because that childhood and adolescence are a vital stage of cognitive aging that sets the foundation for cognitive aging throughout the lifetime.
Cognitive function has many implications for well-being, including on the basis of their quality of life, self-worthiness, and the possibility of developing a neurodegenerative disease. Chronic stress can also adversely impact cognitive function, especially during early life. However, the mechanism through which chronic stress influences cognitive function is not understood.
One possibility is the allostatic load, which refers to multisystem physiological dysregulation as a result of severe wear-and-tear problems. Prior studies have linked early life adversity with an increased allostatic load in adults as well as poorer cognitive function, indicating that it may influence the relationship between early life adversity and later life cognitive function.
Participants were recruited from the National Survey of Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) conducted between 2004 and 2006. Social and health information, such as sex, age, education level, race, medical diagnoses, and medication use (e.g. hypertension, hypertension, etc. in the past month).
Biological evaluations were conducted during an overnight visit to three clinics, for 20 biomarkers to assess the functioning of the neuroendocrine, immune, metabolic, and cardiovascular systems.
Seven areas of cognitive function were measured using multiple batteries of neurocognitive tasks; these areas included immediate and delayed verbal episodic memory, working memory span, verbal fluency, inductive reasoning, processing speed, and attention switching.
DAmico said that early life''s decline in cognitive health coincided with a decrease in chronic stress that builds up in the body over time, otherwise known as allostatic load. In the present study, these effects were only observed for executive functioning (higher order processes like problemsolving and multitasking), but not memory performance. Moreover, these effects were only observed in women, not men.
According to the researcher, the study sample was relatively stable with low levels of stress, low allostatic load, and performed well on cognitive tasks. This is because previous studies have shown that the risk of cognitive decline and dementia is different from other races.
Another caveat is that the study concept was based on a cross-sectional measurement of early life adversity, the biological markers leading up to the allostatic load score, and the cognitive tasks all took place in the same time frame. This makes it difficult for individuals with poorer cognitive performance to make causal claims about the results. For example, those who had poorer recall may have reported less adversity in early life.
According to the author, the findings must be repeated in other samples to see how the results hold up in different populations. We also want to understand how healthy behaviors can reduce the load of early life and minimize the consequences of cognitive health in future years. These healthy behaviors include physical activity, social engagement, and eating a healthy diet.
Danielle DAmico, Maya E. Amestoy, and Alexandra J. Fiocco describe the mediating role of allostatic load in the relationship between early life adversity and cognitive function throughout the adult lifespan.