UW News

June 25, 1998

Can testosterone improve memory in men? Study provides initial findings

NEW ORLEANS — Treating older men with testosterone may help improve spatial and verbal memory, according to a small study conducted at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The preliminary results were presented today by Dr. Monique Cherrier during the 1998 Endocrine Society meeting in New Orleans. Cherrier is an acting instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a psychologist with the Geriatric Research Clinical Center at the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System.

Men’s testosterone levels naturally decrease with age. As research has linked estrogen decline and memory loss in women, researchers sought to examine whether declining testosterone affected men’s cognitive abilities.

Researchers examined the effects of testosterone therapy in 11 men ranging in age from 52 to 79. Participants were randomly assigned to an active or placebo group and received weekly injections. Those in the active group received 100 mg of testosterone enanthate, a dose that brought their circulating hormone levels up to the range of healthy young men.

Prior to the start of treatment and twice during treatment participants were given a battery of tests to measure memory abilities. These included testing spatial memory by having participants memorize a walking route through a maze and testing verbal memory by having participants listen to and recall a list of words. Other tests measured attention and language memory.

“Men receiving testosterone treatment experienced significant improvements in verbal and spatial memory compared to those in the control group,” Cherrier said. No improvements were noted in areas of language or attention.

“Just as declines in estrogen have been shown to affect memory in women, decreasing testosterone levels may affect men,” Cherrier noted. “Understanding the linkage between thinking abilities and hormones is important and these preliminary results raise some interesting questions about using testosterone as treatment for memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.”